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Health Care Facilities: A Profitable Niche for Your Cleaning Business
Author: Steve Hanson

Copyright 2006 The Janitorial Store

A growing area that offers plenty of opportunity and potential profit for building service contractors is cleaning health care facilities. Besides hospitals, there are nursing homes, doctor's offices, clinics, hospices, and dental offices that all need cleaning. With the aging baby boomer population, the number of medical facilities will continue to increase in the next few years. Most hospitals employ in-house cleaning crews, but there is a growing trend towards outsourcing cleaning services. Even if a hospital or medical facility has their own in-house cleaning crew, they will sometimes hire a cleaning service for offices, public areas or specialty cleaning (carpets, floors, windows). This presents an opportunity for janitorial cleaning companies who are willing to invest some time and effort into learning the ins and outs of cleaning medical facilities.

Begin by realizing that cleaning in the medical world is regulated and you must follow specific rules and guidelines. In many instances, you will need to document your cleaning procedures. There will be extra training required for your employees and you must provide close supervision to assure that everything is cleaned correctly. You may have to invest in more equipment, chemicals, and supplies to meet the requirements of a particular facility. In addition, laws in your state may require you, as an employer in the health care industry, to provide your employees with hazard communication training, hepatitis shots, and instructions in the proper disposal of biohazard materials.

There are many types of medical facilities, so take some time to study the market in your area before deciding to add this niche to your business. First decide which type of facility your company is best suited to clean. When you are just starting out, it's better to begin with smaller clinics and doctor offices. Another choice when just starting out is to provide specialized services such as floor care, carpet cleaning, upholstery cleaning, and window cleaning. Smaller facilities and specialized cleaning gives you a chance to learn the ropes and build up a reputation in this area. This is also worthwhile, because owners of janitorial cleaning services say that it's from word of mouth referrals that they gain new health care clients.

It is important to know there are different definitions of "clean" when considering the needs of medical facilities. When you traditionally think of cleaning, it implies removing all visible soil. However, when it comes to health care buildings, clean can also mean disinfecting, sterilizing, and decontaminating surfaces. If you are thinking of presenting a proposal to a medical facility, it is important to know the difference between these three terms. You are often dealing with more than just soil removal -- you are removing soil that can be highly contaminated. It is important that your employees follow documented procedures and don't take any shortcuts.

Sterilization or disinfection is common in most areas of a medical facility. Sterilization refers to cleaning with powerful chemicals that destroy all known microbial life. Disinfection is different in that it means killing specific types of pathogens and microorganisms. If you are involved with either procedure you will be using hospital grade disinfectants.

In addition, you must pay special attention to mops, cleaning cloths, and buckets. These items should be cleaned every day, and sometimes after each use. Most medical facilities are now using microfiber cleaning cloths and flat mops, as there is less chance of cross-contamination. It may also be a requirement to use a true HEPA filtered vacuum. A HEPA vacuum cleaner is necessary to protect indoor air quality and prevent microorganisms from becoming airborne.

When cleaning in a medical facility, workers must assume that every surface they clean can pose a potential risk to themselves, employees, patients, and visitors. Janitorial staff needs to be follow the regulations established by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) about exposure to blood borne pathogens.

It is essential that cleaning staff have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes gloves and eye protection. Wearing the right PPE helps to assure that your cleaning staff will not touch contaminated surfaces and protects them from splashes and spills.

One of the challenges of cleaning hospitals is that they are often open 24 hours a day, so there are unique situations you may have to work around. Large projects, such as cleaning hard floors or carpets, may involve blocking off areas until the project is completed. The same holds true for public rest rooms. Another challenge you might face in this setting is the noise caused by vacuum cleaners. You may need to buy "quiet" vacuum cleaners, which may cost more than conventional vacuum cleaners. In addition, many facilities are now requiring that you vacuum hard surface floors opposed to dust mopping because vacuuming reduces the amount of dust and other particulates that can become airborne.

There are constant changes and innovations in the equipment and supplies that are used or are required to be used in health care facilities. Some of the new products in the marketplace include:

* Vapor Cleaning -- These are compact and low moisture steam cleaning machines. They can be used on various surfaces including hard floors, carpeting, fabric partitions and toilets. These machines can sanitize surfaces without the use of harsh chemicals.

* Electrostatic Sprayer -- This is a new product that uses an air assisted electrostatic sprayer to apply disinfectants, deodorizes, cleaners, sealants, and various coatings. According to the manufacturer, it is much more efficient and effective than traditional sprayers.

* New disinfectants and hydrogen peroxide cleaners -- New non-toxic cleaners are continually being introduced.

If you want to expand into cleaning health care facilities, you must be willing to spend time learning about the best ways to keep facilities clean while using the least toxic chemicals.

Breaking into cleaning health care facilities can be difficult. Many are hesitant to use outside contractors for their cleaning services. In addition, it can be tough to get in touch with the right person at a health care facility. You need to break the barrier and find the decision maker who realizes that hiring an outside cleaning staff can reduce their overall costs.

In the health care field there are constant changes and advances. This includes the supplies and equipment that are used in cleaning facilities. If you decide to venture into this area you must be willing to do your homework and keep up with technological changes and housekeeping practices. If you have a thoroughly trained staff and offer quality services at a fair price the field will be wide open.

It is almost a certainty that the medical industry will grow significantly. This can be a boom and a profit maker for janitorial cleaning services that have trained their staff to properly clean health care facilities. Specializing in cleaning health care facilities can help a cleaning service owner stay on top of current trends and equipment in the industry. Becoming known as a medical facility cleaning specialist can open many doors and lead to higher profits.

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Steve Hanson is co-founding member of TheJanitorialStore.com, an online community for owners and managers of cleaning companies who want to build a more profitable and successful cleaning business. Sign up for Trash Talk: Tip of the Week at www.TheJanitorialStore.com and receive a Free Gift. Read cleaning success stories from owners of cleaning companies at www.cleaning-success.com/ .

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