Anyone walking into the SRH Wald-Klinikum Gera could be forgiven for thinking they are in a new exhibition hall rather than a hospital. The corridors are full of natural light, there is no trace of any 'hospital odours', and – as well as artworks on the walls – this hospital also features a spacious lobby with a huge screen showing its own television channel. The new building was officially opened in 2013.
"The hospital departments used to be spread across the whole city, but now everything that belongs together is right here," says Katrin Wiesner. Even two years after its inauguration, Wiesner, the hospital's press officer, is clearly still proud to show people around this superbly equipped hospital, which is also the first one in Germany to present itself as a 'hospital of art and culture'. The hospital's patients – all accommodated in comfortable two-bed rooms with a private patient level of quality – can appreciate art throughout the entire hospital, a key design principle which also helps guide people from one place to another. The various floors of the ward blocks are named after 11 famous figures who had close links to the Thuringia region, including Friedrich Schiller, Carl Zeiss and Walter Gropius.
With 1,000 beds, this is one of the few not-for-profit hospitals in Germany. The parent holding company SRH in Heidelberg is owned by a foundation. It acts as an umbrella organisation for subsidiaries specialising in the fields of healthcare, education and social care, including 10 acute care hospitals and three rehabilitation centres.
"The fact that this is all run by a foundation is something we notice on a day-to-day basis," says infection control practitioner Yvonne Wildensee. A qualified nurse, she has been a dedicated member of the hospital workforce for the last 25 years: "My training coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I experienced the merging of the Gera Municipal Hospital, built in 1912, with the Wismut Miners' Hospital," says Wildensee. Before qualifying as an expert in hospital hygiene, she spent several years working as an intensive care nurse. She says that the shift from working with seriously ill patients to a job that helps prevent patients from becoming seriously ill in the first place was one of the best decisions she's made: "It helps that I know the whole organisation inside out and have worked in various departments. And it's also useful to have several years of professional experience because working in hospital hygiene requires a certain amount of stamina!" Another key point is that her colleagues have responded so positively to the work she does together with two other infection control specialists. She is supported by between 30 and 35 link nurses and 16 doctors who are responsible for infection control, as well as by the German Hygiene Advice Centre (BZH) in Freiburg. "We can see that people are committed to getting things right because we constantly get calls from colleagues in just about every department asking how they should best solve this or that problem," says Wildensee.
The problem of cleaning and decontaminating care utensils at the Wald-Klinikum Gera has been neatly solved by cleaning and disinfection machines from the company MEIKO, as Wildensee explains: "We're delighted that we're able to use the Mercedes of bedpan washer-disinfectors throughout the hospital!" All MEIKO cleaning and disinfection appliances are operated at an A0 value of 600, a figure that refers to their excellent microbial inactivation properties.
Healthcare-associated infections don't always come from a hospital, but are often so-called endogenous infections – in other words infections caused by an infectious agent that was already present in the patient's nose or on their skin. Yvonne Wildensee sees this as a key distinction that is frequently forgotten, but she argues it is crucial because it affects the status of her own work. As an active member of Saxony's infection control network, she takes her work extremely seriously. Staff members at the Wald-Klinikum Gera hospital have been participating in the ‘Clean Hands’ initiative for years. The hospital also boasts patient-specific bedpan washers in isolation rooms as well as disinfectant dispensers in the corridors which have helped improve hand hygiene compliance among employees and visitors alike. Staff can also carry small bottles of disinfectant in their jacket pockets, and the hospital favours playful and educational means of highlighting this key issue: "We agreed with the hospital marketing department that the WHO's Five Moments for Hand Hygiene would appear as a screensaver on all our PCs for one to two days every six to eight weeks." Intelligent and innovative hospital hygiene is clearly an art in itself!