Home-like residential aged care facilities have obvious, documented benefits. They reduce hospitalisations and improve the quality of life for their residents, while allowing flexibility in their day-to-day living. The less like a hospital it feels, the better it is for the resident. So what does this have to do with paper towels in aged care?

What caused the confusion?

While we’re getting savvier with creating living spaces that are comfortable and meet clinical standards, there is still work to do. One ongoing conversation is including space for paper towels in private ensuites. Architects often design ensuites without room for paper towels by the basin, instead choosing to provide more storage for the resident. Despite the thoughtfulness, it means that the facility is now likely in breach of infection prevention and control requirements. The Australasian Health Facility Guidelines Part D – Infection Prevention and Control specifies that:

HAND DRYING
Single use cloth or paper towels will be provided at all hand basins. Locate towel dispensers adjacent to the splashback to prevent splash contamination. Dispensers should be smooth-surfaced and easy to clean to prevent dust or soil contamination.
Paper towel may be used in public amenities and beverage bays.
Hot air hand dryers are not recommended for installation in clinical areas of healthcare facilities. High speed hand dryers may be considered in non-clinical areas, such as public toilets.

While we could all do with extra storage space, a residential aged care facility is primarily a care area. In a facility where there may be many residents receiving care from the same staff, it’s important to follow proper infection prevention and control protocol. More information is available at the Department of Health’s Gastroenteritis Outbreak Management Guidelines, specifically ‘Chapter 8.2.1 Hand hygiene‘. In short, it’s crucial that paper towels or single-use cloths are available at all hand basins in aged care facilities.

Ensuites with no paper towels?

As always, there are some exceptions. If your facility doesn’t maintain client residences as clinical spaces, there could instead be a clinical trolley with cleaning and disinfection supplies, including gels, sanitisers and paper towels. Here, the carer would wash their hands in the resident’s sink, then dry their hands with the paper towels. They would then throw out that paper towel as part of preparing the trolley for the next resident.

However your facility operates, it’s crucial that there is a clear, communicated policy in place for appropriate hand hygiene, including washing and drying. Staff need to know what appropriate hand hygiene is, and when the use of alcohol-based hand disinfectants is insufficient. The World Health Organisation have ‘My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene’ resources available to display around your facility. If in doubt, why not contact us for a free 20-minute IPC consultation?