Disposable Cubical Curtains

For Decades, the standard in Healthcare Privacy Curtains has been a textile product that hangs from chains connected to a metal track on the ceiling.  These curtains were originally designed to be “Semi” permanent in their locations and were only removed for occasional cleaning or as time worn replacement was needed.

Research has shown that potentially harmful bacteria has and does contaminate traditional cloth cubical curtains. Healthcare associated bacteria may, therefore, have the potential to be transmitted from curtains to patients via the hands of health care workers, especially if hand hygiene is not adequate. Over the past few years’ disposable biocidal curtains have become available which can offer antimicrobial capabilities and thus require less frequent changes.  However, the operational management of tracking and scheduling traditional curtain changes on a consistent basis has been problematic at best with limited success.

Many healthcare institutions in frustration have left it to Environmental Services to figure out how and when to clean, replace and purchase new curtains based on a policy from Infection Prevention.  The result is often the unknown of which curtains might contain harmful bacteria, which don’t, which need to be changed out, and which are ok.

Cost is also a significant issue with traditional cubical curtains, with prices ranging from $300 to $1,000 per curtain depending on size and fabric.  Washing of these fabric curtains can range from Exceptional Patient Care$15 to $45 per curtain.  For a 400 bed hospital, washing all of the curtains quarterly could easily result in $65,000 annual cleaning costs.  Replacing 1/3 of the curtains per year (to wear, tear and soiling) would add an additional annual cost of $100,000, for a total annual cost to the hospital of $364,400.

To purchase the same annual number of disposable curtains (being washed currently) 4 times per year would cost in the neighborhood of $65,000 annually.  This is an annual savings of almost $300,000!   Few Hospital CFO’s need much more convincing than this to become supportive of using disposable curtains throughout their facility.  Few infection Perfectionists need much more convincing to support a program where cubical curtains are changed out quarterly in a trackable process.

The industry has begun to see a shift toward these new disposables to replace traditional cubical curtains.  Disposable Cubical Curtains may be one of the most innovative and cost conscious products to come along in the healthcare facility industry in a very long time.  There has been a significant shift in the quality of the curtains being designed, with the majority of products now made of a non-woven Polypropylene which is lightweight and durable.  They come with finished side hems, mesh tops and by just looking at them are hard to differentiate from a standard textile cubical curtain.  Disposable curtains also come treated with an Antimicrobial Treatment to defend against bacteria.  They come with a permanent pleat for easy handling and pressed look when they are hanging.  Most all of them pass the NFPA 701 Flame Resistant Test and are 100% recyclable.

Some of the Benefits of Disposable Curtains are:

  • Hygiene: The disposable curtains are treated with an Antimicrobial Treatment to protect against bacteria.
  • Time Savings: You can replace an existing disposable curtain in just minutes without having to hang by individual hook, one link at a time.  The curtains come with attached links that easily slide into the hanging device suspended from the ceiling.
  • Removal: Each curtain will come down easily in seconds by pulling the single pin holding them in place.
  • Weight: Disposable curtains are extremely light weight, typically weighing only a fraction of traditional fabric curtains.
  • Management of time curtain is in place: Some models of disposable curtains have a device attached that when activated will keep a running clock and show you the amount of life left for the curtain (curtains typically are in place for 3 months which is what the tool measures).
  • Appearance: Disposable Curtains come in a variety of prints and patterns and can also be designed in any format a hospital may desire.  Curtains look like traditional fabric curtains.
  • Disposable: The curtains are 100% recyclable and can be disposed of in accordance with hospital procedures.
  • Fire Safe:  Curtains are fire retardant and meet NFPA 701 testing
  • Laundering: No laundering is necessary with disposable curtains eliminating this cost to the hospital.
  • Cost: As noted earlier, the curtains are a cost saving product that eliminates the need for capital dollars being set aside.

Disposable Curtains can be used in any location that traditional fabric curtains are currently located.  There are install modification kits that allow disposable curtains to be hung on existing curtain tracks so that no additional track need be purchased.  It should be noted that Disposable Curtain manufactures also have tracks that can be installed in the ceiling if an area is being remolded.

There has always been a difficulty in balancing the aspects of providing curtains free of bacteria, matched with the time it takes to change them out and the entire cost of the process.  Disposable Curtains appear to be the solution to this decades old dilemma and taking Environmental Services another step closer to providing a safe environment for the patient and being able to keep costs down in the process.  We are now seeing the leading edge of very large wave that is ready to sweep across the healthcare world.  Every hospital will eventually get there; the well managed ones will lead the way.

About the Author:

Rock Jensen, Senior Consultant, has been engaged in hospital environmental services, patient transport, laundry, food, grounds, communication, safety, security, and facilities management since the mid- 1990s.