The task of hydrating residents in a care home has its own unique challenges. When it comes to the drinking water system, the emphasis has to be on hygiene – the consequences of ignoring this can be dire for vulnerable residents.
World Health Organization, Water, Sanitation and Health Guidance states: "Water is a basic nutrient for the human body and is critical to human life. It supports the digestion of food, absorption, transportation and use of nutrients and the elimination of toxins and wastes from the body."
Dehydration poses serious health consequences, in particular with older people as it increases the risk of issues such as urinary tract infections, constipation, heat stress and pressure ulcers. For those with dementia, dehydration can also lead to more challenging behaviour. It is therefore in every care home’s best interest to ensure that residents have ready access to a consistent supply of tasty and hygienic drinking water.
Water is often not considered as the potential cause of an illness or bug, and food is instead mistakenly blamed. However, bacteria in water is all too often the root cause.
With normal drinking water dispensers, external influences can cause microbiological pollution. The outlet of most water dispensers is usually completely unprotected and exposed to the environment. Germs settle on the wet water tap, and without appropriate mechanisms this may lead to a proliferation of bacteria and recontamination.
In an unfiltered tap, the water that accumulates at the tap nozzle will have bacteria in it and research has shown that after 120 minutes, this bacterium is liable to travel back up and into the water system. This could seriously have an impact on peoples’ health in care homes.
Many care homes have replaced their original water coolers with filtered water systems, but haven’t necessarily considered the cleaning requirements of the new systems. In this complex environment where cleanliness is paramount, care homes would have to employ someone to clean all the tap nozzles every hour to prevent bacteria, which doesn’t seem cost effective when there might be as many as 100 units, and when there are alternatives available.
Care homes could better manage their drinking water service by reducing the amount of systems in place, and replacing them with fewer, but more effective, self-cleaning machines. There are filtered water systems available which constantly self-clean the nozzle to kill off bacteria, and have a filter which further prevents this bacterium travelling.
Another important aspect of a drinking water system in a care home is the ease of use and accessibility of the water. Drinking water should be readily available for everyone to have immediate access to, and dispense water as they wish – for busy carers, residents and visitors.
By investing in a system that is mains-fed and filters and purifies at source, care homes can also significantly reduce its carbon footprint, in comparison to buying in pre-bottled water. This kind of system will also reduce time spent on ordering bottled water as well as the space required to store it.
The recommendation is therefore for care homes to invest in a self-cleaning system with several units placed around the site – but not necessarily as many as there are currently. It would be better to be over cleaned and under located, rather than the other way around, and give everyone the peace of mind that the water available for residents, staff and visitors is constantly bacteria free.
For systems that do not self-clean, the nozzle and surrounding areas should be wiped down with anti-septic wipes or sanitising spray as often as possible, e.g. every hour. A closed off or protected nozzle makes it less likely germs will enter the drinking water system. If there is a drip tray - check, empty and clean it twice a day. Clean with sanitising spray or sanitising wipes and if there is a scale build-up on the drip tray lid, remove and clean with a mild descaler.
The facilities manager, manufacturer or supplier should carry out a monthly inspection of the system, monitoring to see if flow-rates and temperature levels are correct. If the system allows sparkling water, CO2 levels should also be checked.
With good quality filters, it is recommended that the system is sanitised at least once every six months. Isolate the system, use a suitable sanitising solution fluid and clean the equipment thoroughly. Where necessary, filters should be replaced to ensure that the system continues to produce high quality, purified water for the next six months.
Care home managers should consider using a filtered water system which constantly self-cleans the nozzle, killing off the bacteria, and has a filter which further prevents this bacteria travelling, such as Vivreau’s Sodamaster high performance drinking water dispenser. This brand-new updated device boasts three stages of filtration which eliminate potential bacteria from the mains water before it reaches the tap. The unique patented Thermal Germ Barrier also thermally disinfects the tap by heating it to over 100 degrees Celsius at 90 minute intervals.
Instead of having to constantly clean every water filter tap in the care home or use harsh chemicals, the Vivreau Sodamaster self-cleans to kill off bacteria. Carers will be able to rest easy in the knowledge that residents have access to a consistent supply of hygienic and tasty water.
Water is a subject matter which is increasingly being treated with high importance by hospitals and other critical care areas. Hospitals and trusts are setting up water safety boards because they see it as a major problem. Let’s ensure care homes tackle the issue with similar vigour – resulting in hydrated and happy residents, visitors and staff.
By Andrew Fisher, Sales Director, BRITA Vivreau