Sally Swartz: In this case, hospital clean is filthy

A retired licensed practical nurse, who recently spent a week as a patient at Martin Medical Center in Stuart, confirms that I’m not the only one who’s noticed the hospital is dirty — really dirty. It could use a housekeeper like Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Hughes to oversee its cleaning staff.

Two years ago, I complained after an outpatient visit that walls in hallways and rooms needed scrubbing and painting, and that bathrooms had mold in sinks and showers, and caked-on dirt everywhere.

A hospital representative thanked me for my comments and said it’s very difficult to keep older areas of the hospital clean.

A couple of short stays in June showed me the cardiac care unit has at least one aggressive worker who even disinfects door handles. But other areas I saw, particularly the medical center’s emergency room, remain uncomfortably grimy.

So I was not surprised to receive the LPN patient’s emailed photos, showing brown spots she said were blood and feces on the floor of her hospital room at Martin Medical Center. More photos show hydrogen peroxide bubbling furiously over the spots after a friend brought in the disinfectant and used her cellphone to shoot pictures.

“It was so frustrating,” the LPN said, “to complain and as the days went along see that nothing was done.” She points out that a dark brown, wood-look floor isn’t the best choice for a hospital trying to keep patient rooms clean. Spilled body fluids such as blood all but disappear.

She had no complaints about her actual medical care, which she said was excellent. But no one would address her concerns about the unsanitary conditions.

“It’s not like I didn’t mention it. I told the nurse somebody needed to clean the floor and the bathroom.”

The LPN said a worker came daily to mop her room. She tried without success to convey her concerns to the mopper, who did not speak English.

“The whole week I was there, no one ever came to check on the housekeeping,” she said. “You would expect spot-checks or some kind of oversight. Somebody should have noticed this besides me.”

Cleanliness rules in a hospital, she said, are different. “They have to go the extra mile. The door to my room had layers of dirt on it. A hospital should not look like a tenement.”

Exasperated, she took several disposable bed pads from a linen cart and made a path over the dirty floor from her bed to the bathroom “so I wouldn’t have to put my feet on the floor.”

She was surprised that “nobody even remarked on the fact that I’d done it.”

Consumer Reports gave Martin Medical Center a 50 percent overall rating and average ratings on avoiding infections. The hospital rated below average on avoiding MRSA, a virulent type of staph infection and C.difficile, a difficult-to-treat bacterial infection, in 2013-14.  Patients gave the hospital high ratings (90 percent) on room cleanliness.

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems gives the Martin hospital an overall rating slightly above 67, but provides no breakdown on cleanliness and infections. The nonprofit Leapfrog Group, which works for delivery of safer health care, gives it a “C” or average rating.

The LPN has been home for a few weeks and is recovering. But being stuck in a dirty room with no way to get it cleaned added to the stress and discomfort of her hospital stay.

She said she’s not blaming “the poor little peon who has to do the work” cleaning hospital rooms. Workers, she said, “need a supervisor. They need instruction. This is a management issue, not a person issue.”

I’m not a neat freak, obsessed with cleanliness. But I agree with the LPN. For the safety of their patients, hospitals need to clean up spilled blood and body fluids and use strong cleaners to remove mold in bathrooms and get rid of general grime.

Martin Medical Center has good doctors and caring nurses. Now it needs a tough housekeeper to clean up its act.

Sally Swartz is a former member of The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is [email protected]. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Sally Swartz


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