Transitioning to more sustainable PPE across the province

August 18, 2020

During emergencies and during regular operations, using sustainable personal protective equipment (PPE) ensures employee safety and that stockpiles last longer.

One example of sustainable PPE is using the reusable isolation gown over the disposable, single-use version. Health-care employees wear isolation gowns to protect patients and themselves from the spread of infection.

As the province continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a single Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) with a centralized linen distribution allows the health system to overcome challenges and to fulfill changing PPE demand across the province.

“When sites return soiled reusable gowns for washing, they get sent back as clean and safe as a new gown. The gowns are ready to be used again, and they continue to protect employees and patients from contagions. These advantages are in addition to environmental friendliness and cost effectiveness,” says 3sHealth’s Director of Provincial Linen Services Jennifer Fetch.

“The real beauty of reusable gowns, as this pandemic showcases, is that the overall stockpile will not dwindle as quickly as the disposable gown stockpile would,” says Shane Merriman, the SHA’s Executive Director of Contracting, Procurement, and Supply Management. “Reusability is even more beneficial during global supply shortages for medical supplies and PPE.”

All health-care facilities that were receiving provincial linen services through 3sHealth’s contract with K-Bro Linen Services now have access to reusable isolation gowns. The gowns are now available to more than 75 new users than before the pandemic. “Early into the pandemic, we started receiving calls from customers who recognized that their disposable gown supply was being used up very quickly,” says Fetch. “There was a lot of uncertainty then, and we didn’t know when or if a big spike in cases was coming. We knew early on that we needed to increase capacity to make reusable isolation gowns available to every employee.”

“In addition to going above and beyond during this pandemic, by following proper PPE procedures, health-care employees also ensured that gowns and other crucial PPE remained in circulation, which resulted in adequate supply across the province for their fellow employees,” says Jackie Belanger, General Manager at K-Bro. “We extend our thanks to all Saskatchewan health-care employees for everything they do to protect patients and their coworkers.”

Reusable gowns: How are they washed to ensure they are safe to use again?

The microfibre fabric of the reusable isolation gowns Saskatchewan health-care employees wear is rated for “level two” protection. Level one and level two classification applies to simple procedures while levels three and four apply to more moderate and high-risk procedures, such as gastrointestinal surgeries or trauma procedures.

After an employee puts a reusable gown in the soiled bag, all microfibre isolation gowns are processed through large continuous batch washers. Their design requires that all gowns must pass through every step of the standardized process to be washed with the cleaning agents that make them reusable.

The reusable gowns go through three wash zones that use a precise pH level and temperature (up to 65.56 degrees Celsius) at each zone. The final wash zone adds a repellency product to all microfibre isolation gowns. This product maintains the gowns’ level two barrier protection. Automated wash formulas eliminate incorrect dosing and other errors in all three zones.

After reusable gowns are washed, they are just as protective as new ones. Health Canada’s regulatory standards support the use of reusable isolation gowns as a fully compliant option for COVID-19 treatment.

Reusable gowns can be worn and washed up to 150 times. A disposable gown goes to the landfill after a single use, incurring waste management costs on top of the initial purchase price.

The province-wide demand for reusable isolation gowns increased once the pandemic started. Pre-COVID-19, approximately 8,500 reusable gowns circulated every day. July demand was at approximately 16,000 a day.


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