By Samantha Hill
Over the last three years, people have become accustomed to hearing words like community spread, isolation, incubation period, transmission and infection prevention. Just the thought of visiting the doctor can spark anxiety for many and now even more so. With infection control being a concern for both clinicians and patients, how can we maintain a warm, welcoming waiting room environment while using materials that promote health and safety?
Standards of care for patient wellness has long been established in healthcare facilities. Materials used in those spaces should also be considered a standard of care. Two considerations when reviewing materials to use in a healthcare environment are: will this material harbor bacteria and infectious agents, and will this material withstand the immense wear and tear of patient use and repeated application of cleaning agents?
I am very cautious about woven materials when entering a healthcare facility. In fact, I try to avoid woven materials in all public locations. Fabrics for healthcare environments have evolved beyond a vinyl only available in unsightly colors and limited patterns. Today, silica-based, PVC-free, and clean vinyl products are available and are collectively known as coated upholstery. As technology has improved, so have the available colors and patterns. Coated upholstery is much easier to clean and disinfect than woven fabric, which decreases the spread of infectious agents. Woven upholstery can easily harbor bacteria and cleaners used by many facilities are not accepted for use. Conversely, to get the most life and longevity from your coated upholstery, it is imperative to understand and follow the manufacturers’ cleaning recommendations.
Many healthcare facilities no longer accept wood. Although wood has traditionally be used to provide a warmer, biophilic environment, it is also difficult to disinfect and maintain water resistance. It is a porous material and can harbor bacteria. As an alternative, metal is a non-porous material that promotes infection control and can withstand harsh cleaning agents used in healthcare settings. With more powder coat color options now available, metal seating can be designed to feel inviting and comfortable.
It should also be mentioned that wall-saver chair frames should be used for chairs that sit against a wall. A wall-saver leg design prevents the chair from damaging or scratching the wall. Not only is a damaged wall ugly, dust and debris can build-up in scratches or cuts.
A chair clean-out (or crumb sweep) is also essential. Clean-outs allow furniture to be easily wiped between the seat and back to prevent debris from accumulating and becoming a breeding ground for bacteria.
There are many benefits to using solid surface materials in a healthcare facility. Although the material is more expensive than alternate solutions like laminate, the long-term benefits certainly outweigh the upfront cost. Solid surface is stain-resistant making cleaning between patients easy and efficient. It is also resistant to bacteria growth. As a nonporous material, solid surface has seamless joints so there are fewer areas to harbor bacteria growth.
Solid surfaces are impact resistant. They are a very durable surface that requires minimal maintenance. If ever needed, scratches can be buffed out and cracks can easily be repaired.
For chair arm caps, occasional table tops, and worksurfaces, solid surface is a great alternative.
As healthcare practices are ever evolving and improving, the products and materials used in healthcare environments are doing the same. Organizations like The Center for Health Design provide access to a wealth of resources to guide a standard of care when selecting materials for a healthcare environment.
Samantha Hill is in charge of Healthcare Market Development for Interior Elements, which specializes in commercial furnishing.