Gyms in aged care facilities are more common than people may realise. Many aged care homes have physiotherapy and rehabilitation equipment to improve the muscular strength of residents. Physical activity and exercise can provide benefits for older people. For many residents, the gym provides a meaningful place to socialise while exercising and improves their physical and social wellbeing.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the presence of other harmful germs (bacteria and fungus) in residential care environments, aged care residents are still busy at the gym. Allied health professionals continue to support residents in maintaining their fitness levels and setting new goals. However, this cannot be achieved if the equipment and premises promote bacteria growth, leading to an increased risk of infections.

Gyms can be a breeding ground for bacteria

  • Gym equipment and other surfaces may possibly be colonised with staphylococci.
  • The gym may contain multiple people from different areas of the facility at the same time (residents, staff and/or visitors)
  • Some parts of gym equipment are frequently touched surfaces, which can increase the spread of harmful germs.

Any shared equipment used in daily living activities that comes into contact with intact skin must be washed before and after it is handled.

Risk management for gyms in aged care facilities

Aged care homes need to regularly review their gym cleaning and disinfecting practices because shared equipment can be a vehicle by which infectious agents are transferred between residents.

Important hints to remember when you are analysing infection risks in gyms in aged care facilities:

  • Identify frequently touched surfaces: handles, touch screens, keyboards, rails, doors, chairs, etc.
  • Identify suitable positions for alcohol-based hand rub dispensers to help residents and workers comply with good hand hygiene practice. Install a hand sanitiser dispenser at the entrance, so you can ask staff, residents and visitors to sanitise their hands before they enter and as they leave the gym. Display clear signs encouraging everyone to use the hand sanitiser dispensers frequently. Make sure you have hand sanitiser dispensers located throughout the gym.
  • Ensure participation for group classes is kept to a minimum to respect social distancing rules.
  • Regularly communicate to ensure that all residents and staff remember they must not come into the gym if they are unwell.
  • Keep a record of who has been in the gym for contact tracing if someone tests positive for COVID-19 or any other healthcare-associated infection.
  • Establish the correct cleaning strategies, including the cleaning method and choosing the correct cleaning product.
  • Provide approved cleaning agents, which is also a part of standard precautions. Do not forget to review manufacturers’ instructions for the decontamination of equipment with the correct detergent and/or disinfectant. Have disposable wipes readily accessible, especially around equipment, so that people can clean everything before and after each use.
  • Provide disposable gloves and masks at a minimum; some aged care homes may advise using face masks in the gym.
  • Monitor the current outbreak situation.
  • Test and reinforce the level of staff knowledge, attitude, and skills regarding standard precautions: hand hygiene, PPE use, routine cleaning of the environment and shared equipment, and handling used linen and waste.
  • Check the availability of a cleaning schedule and policy for the gym, and ensure it specifies the cleaning regularity for different surfaces in the environment.
  • Consider strategies to minimise contact (e.g. pedal-operated rubbish bins).

Common gym equipment cleaning requirements

Common rehabilitation and gym equipment are treadmills, exercise bikes, resistance bands, fitness balls, etc.

  • Follow recommended best practice for cleaning: areas touched by the resident should be cleaned after use, plus daily cleaning.
  • Neutral detergent should be used for routine cleaning.
  • Help residents to attend to hand hygiene before touching the equipment.

A gym cleaning checklist may help you to keep your gym clean and safe. Use the 2019 NHMRC guidelines to develop a gym cleaning checklist and schedule depending on your facility risk assessment.

Communication with residents, visitors and their families

In conclusion, it is always good to engage all stakeholders in the cleaning conversation. They will appreciate your efforts in maintaining the facility’s gym as a safe place. Send them a courtesy message that your gym is a safe place to come and use. You want to reassure them of the extra measures that you are taking right now. Let them know that you clean your equipment after each person, that you have smaller class sizes. Tell them that your staff are washing their hands in line with national guidelines, and that you are checking in with staff daily to ensure they are healthy and well. Reassure them that if, and when, you need to take extra infection control measures, you will do so in the most responsible way, as advised by the facility management.

It’s hard to know whether your facility is doing everything it can to keep your residents safe. One way to get an outside perspective is an independent environmental IPC audit. With over twenty-five years of working in infection control in aged care across Australia and New Zealand, Bug Control are the experts. For more information on how we can help you stop infections, contact us today.