This is clearly an ongoing crisis as hospitals face a growing shortage of uniforms for their staff as they are working longer hours and shifts due to the pandemic.

When confronting unexpected emergencies, such as COVID-19, it is vital to take extra precautionary measures to guarantee the safety of others and implement policies to stem the outbreak of a disease or a virus.  COVID-19 has shown all of us the vulnerable state that hospitals are currently facing and that every action has a consequence.  The efficacy of a hospital is determined not only by those who save the lives of incoming patients, but also by the hospital having ample resources to equip their physicians, nurses, and other staff members.

The Importance of Uniforms for Healthcare Professionals

One of the most overlooked aspects regarding the equipment provided to hospitals is uniforms and having a sufficient amount to equip its healthcare personnel.  One rarely considers daily management of washing and sanitizing dirty uniforms used by physicians and paramedics.  This is not considered important in comparison to the work done by the healthcare professional.

It is essential for all hospital employees to be given clean uniforms every day.  COVID-19 has made us even more aware of cleanliness and maintaining good hygiene.  With this in mind, it is equally important for healthcare professionals to be furnished with clean garments everyday as they are meeting the everyday challenges within their workplace.

Widespread Support for and Solidarity with Healthcare Workers

In many countries, healthcare workers face a lack of clean uniforms.  To confront this major issue, a series of movements have emerged where citizens within their respective countries provide additional aid to their healthcare workers.  Fashion ateliers, tailors and private citizens began producing massive amount of “homemade” uniforms to provide hospitals with the much-needed garments and attire.  This sort of work by local communities has led to a renewed spark amongst those within the healthcare industry to combat COVID-19.  There is a sense of hope for these hospital workers.  The pandemic has been so devastating in the United States and in the United Kingdom that it has led to a popular movement and initiative known as Scrubs Glorious Scrubs.

Daily Management of Uniforms in Different Hospitals Around the World

There are no global standards or operating procedures for the care and distribution of uniforms and garments in the healthcare industry.  Every country has their own system of supplying and monitoring their uniform resources.  For instance, in Italy, the hospitals are universal and public and the hospital administration within each healthcare facility must adhere to laws related to the management of textiles and garments.  However, in the United States, where hospitals are mainly private, every hospital administration makes its own decision regarding the distribution of appropriate medical attire.  In some countries, uniforms are washed in the washing machine and worn by the healthcare workers prior to going to work.  Other countries allow hospital personnel to go on a coffee or snack break without removing their uniforms.  In some hospitals, clean uniforms are not stored in separate and private rooms.  They tend to be stored on shelves inside changing rooms where they could be exposed to the personal attire that the healthcare worker was wearing upon entry to the hospital.  As a result, uniforms could be contaminated and no longer of viable use.

Some hospitals have accrued high supply costs during the pandemic as these facilities supplied their labor force with disposable uniforms.  There is an urgent need to replenish these disposable gowns as COVID cases increase, leading to high costs.

The Italian Example:  Dealing with the Shortage of Uniforms with Forward-Looking Choices

In Italy, hospitals are either public or private.  Public hospitals make up 51.8% of the country’s health services.  The remaining 48.2% consist of accredited private hospitals.  Accredited Private Health represents privately administered hospitals that perform services on the behalf of the Italian National Health Service.  These accredited private hospitals are relatively comparable to the hospitals with public management.

In these facilities, the management of textiles – bed linen and staff uniforms – is performed by outside companies who have their own “all-inclusive” safety and sanitizing devices.  These companies maintain cleanliness and good hygiene by washing, sanitizing, and sterilizing the garments.

To Extract the flow of Textiles through Automated Distribution and Collection Systems

Ensuring the availability of clean uniforms even during emergencies requires having the entire flow of the dirty/clean cycle closely monitored and under control.  In order to guarantee safety procedures, automated tools must be implemented to keep track of the garments in stock and to replenish these supplies as needed.

For many years in Italy, the RFid tracking systems have been employed to “read” the garments by placing a small microchip within each uniform as identification.  This is not a sophisticated system; it is similar to the anti-shoplifting device that makes the alarm systems within a store ring when the cashier forgets to remove the insert devices hidden within the clothes.

Detection and Use of Information Contained in RFid Chips

How does label recognition work?  Scubs vending machines are located in hospital wards which allow doctors and nurses to pick their size and garments depending on their professional role within the hospital.

The medical staff is able to access this through a pin or by use of a badge, which in turn, acts as an identification/credit system.  After a certain number of items have been acquired (normally three), the staff member will be able to retrieve a new uniform.  For this mechanism to work, the hospital personnel must return his/her dirty clothing into a collector.  This information is transmitted to management software where the medical staff member can then access the new and clean scrubs and trousers.

Automatic Control of Textile Supplies for Intelligent and Safe Management

This software enables constant updates of the number of clean garments within the vending machines as well as the number of used garments in the collectors.  This automatic feedback allows you to maintain timely control over the supplies within the vending machine as well as the collection and redistribution of the newly cleaned garments.

There are very few companies around the world that use this type of automated system.  For further information regarding the RFid automatic distribution systems, you may view the one that our company – ABG Systems – has developed and implemented.

Uniform Vending Machines Help Keep Hygiene High

Hospital staff uniforms can be a source for spreading germs, infections, and diseases.  A study was conducted by the New York Hospital Medical Center in Queens that compared the uniforms of 40 doctors and medical students to 10 security guards.  The study revealed that about half of the uniforms worn by the medical staff were contaminated, while only one out of the 10 uniforms worn by the security were dirty.

Doctors’ uniforms contained several pathogens, including those that can lead to staph infections or pneumonia.

To counter this type of contamination, automatic distribution systems of uniforms have been studied that use separate cells to hold individual garments or homogenous sets, for example scrubs and trousers.

This prevents the clothing from being handled by the user themselves, and therefore, prevents the garments from being contaminated by touch.  While healthcare workers adhere to health regulations, it is also useful to add preventive measures to eliminate all possible involuntary contagion spread.

An alternative to this type of technology is represented by vending machines which are similar to cabinets and armoires.  In order to access the individual garments, the medical staff member must sanitize their hands and use a sanitization insert into the distributor before unlocking the door to pick up their uniform.

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