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Privacy Curtains

How Privacy Curtains Impact Emergency Department Patient Flow

By February 12th, 2023No Comments
Emergency Department sign

By: Darrel Hicks

Long-standing problems at hospital Emergency Departments (ED) worsened during the pandemic. Boarding and overcrowding in EDs have been a growing issue for 30 years.

In the last half of 2022 EDs were challenged to manage the flow of patients throughout the hospital due to the trifecta of RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), Influenza A and COVID.

As the new year began, U.S. infectious disease experts monitoring the “tripledemic” stew of viruses that have been plaguing the country say there’s good news — and bad.

The good news is the worst appears to be over from the RSV surge that has been making life miserable for many children and their parents. RSV cases have been falling steadily since the end of November, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, the flu — which also came roaring back this fall after mostly disappearing for the previous two years — looks like it’s finally receding in most places, according to the latest data from the CDC.

The bad news is the latest variant means lots of people are probably going to get COVID-19 this winter. The question is not whether it’s going to cause a surge. It almost certainly will. The question is: How big is the surge going to be?

When Eds are dealing with respiratory illnesses like COVID, the department that receives the patient after treatment in the ED should be prepared, allowing for a swift transfer into a clean and ready patient room. Every staff member is responsible for efficient patient throughput.


The patientcare “Hot Zone” is considered the most contaminated 90 square footage in a patient’s room. The “Hot Zone” includes the patient’s bed and the 36″ perimeter surrounding the bed and contains both hard and soft surfaces that are routinely contaminated with blood, body fluids, infectious droplets, and the shedding of the patient’s flora.

Studies indicate that microorganisms shed by patients can contaminate hospital surfaces at concentrations high enough for transmission, and that these pathogens will survive and persist for extended periods.

In turn pathogens can rapidly be transferred to the hands of healthcare personnel. Healthcare workers subsequently not only contaminate their hands after direct patient contact, but also after touching inanimate surfaces and equipment in the patient Zone.

Soft surfaces such as privacy curtains frequently fly under the radar in terms of the role they may play in the transmission of the above-mentioned respiratory tract infections.  In order to make the room ready, it is recommended that the contaminated privacy curtain exchange be included in the terminal cleaning of isolated or suspected infectious (ED) patient’s room.


When a patient is transferred or discharged from a droplet isolation room it will take the Environmental Services Technician (EST) 45-60 minutes to complete the process of turning it from “Dirty” to “Clean and Ready.”

Many hospitals operated at or near capacity during the pandemic. If there was a privacy curtain at the COVID-infected patient’s bedside, it had to be exchanged for a clean one after the room was terminally cleaned and before the next admission.

During this period of unprecedented curtain exchanges, many hospitals realized that cloth curtains requiring laundering were a BIG problem for the Environmental Services department. Changing a curtain involved “a man, a ladder, and a trip to the curtain lockup requiring a 60+ minute delay,” significantly impacting room turnover and bed availability.

Many chose to switch from cloth to polypropylene privacy curtains that could be exchanged in minutes and were RECYCLABLE! Facilities that did so declared, “Hooray! We can save the planet while saving money and reducing labor by getting rid of our ugly, wrinkled curtains!”

Terminal Cleaning of a Patient’s Room Following Droplet Isolation

  • Focus on the Patient
  • Eliminate Waste
  • Develop Flexible Processes

Environmental Services leaders who are focused on the patient waiting to be admitted to their room must act NOW to improve patient admission processes if throughput goals are not being met.

Best in Class Leadership in the Environmental Services Department would include improving the curtain exchange from one hour currently to just five minutes with a quick no-ladder exchange and 100% recyclable curtains from KleenEdge.