Holiday Decorations, Part 2: They’re Nice But Not if They Spread Infection

By A.J. Plunkett

Compliance managers and safety officers can become hospital Scrooges between Halloween and Christmas as admonitions abound about whether certain decorations are fire hazards.

Then came COVID-19 and heightened concerns about infection prevention and control (IC). Many organizations decided to add decorations to the list of IC hazards on top of the regular controls against fire.

So is this the year when hospitals can finally embrace decorating again?

Maybe not. Hospitals beds this winter are being filled across the country due to a rise in COVID-19 cases as well as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases that are hitting children particularly hard.

“Folks in my organization have reached out to me numerous times this season to say, ‘are we allowed to decorate this year?’” said Robin Beeley, PT, MHA, CPHQ, safety officer for a hospital system in New Hampshire.

The answer has been disappointing.

“When I need to be brief and to the point, I tell folks: Decorations need to be wipeable or washable, electrical safety-rated (UL), NOT block any hallways or egresses, NOT placed on ceilings or doors, and LABELED flameproof, flame-resistant, or flame retardant,” she wrote in response to an Accreditation & Quality Compliance Advisor article on decorations and fire safety earlier this week.

She noted that a fire marshal had visited the hospital for the annual inspection at Halloween. He took samples of the decorations with him “and then took video while setting them aflame to show that they were not ‘flameproof,’ ‘flame-resistant,’ or ‘flame retardant’ as required,” Beeley wrote.

That proved valuable when it was shown to management staff since they are expected to monitor their respective areas.

Don’t know what to target with infection control? Use this infection prevention holiday guideline by Fraser Health.

If you are your hospital’s Scrooge and there is pushback from staff about infection control, remind them of this incident a year into the COVID pandemic:

An air-powered, inflatable Christmas tree costume worn by a staffer was blamed for 44 COVID infections, including one death, at a hospital in California. Investigators found that a battery-operated fan on the costume spread water droplets throughout the emergency department. One ED staffer later died. On Christmas Day.

A.J. Plunkett is editor of Inside Accreditation & Quality, an HCPro publication.