Research Recognized for Excellence

Avgar and Litwin win for “Superbugs Versus Outsourced Cleaners”
ILR School
Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Associate Professors Ariel Avgar and Adam Seth Litwin along with Professor Edmund Becker of Emory University were awarded the Ralph Gomory Best Industry Studies Paper Award by the Industry Studies Association.

“Superbugs Versus Outsourced Cleaners: Employment Arrangements and the Spread of Health Care-Associated Infections” was published by the ILR Review in 2017.

The Industry Studies Association encourages practitioner engagement with industry actors in the course of data-gathering and theory-building, and this is its annual prize for the best research publication in that vein.

The researchers wrote, “On any given day, about one in 25 hospital patients in the U.S. has a health care-associated infection that the patient contracts as a direct result of his or her treatment.”  Cleaners, or environmental services, are responsible for protecting hospital patients, workers and the public from the spread of these infections. Yet, despite its critical importance, hospitals often outsource the function, the authors said.

The paper examines the link between the way hospitals manage their cleaning or “environmental services” function and their annual infection counts. In particular, the authors argue that outsourced cleaners tend to be underpaid, undertrained, and physically and socially divorced from the rest of the care team. As a result, they are less likely than conventionally-employed cleaners to undertake the well-documented steps required to halt the spread of these infections.

The researchers tested whether the use of third-party or contracted environmental service workers is associated with increased incidence infections. By combining infection data with structural, organizational and workforce data from California’s general acute care hospitals, results suggested that, indeed, hospitals that outsourced their cleaners had higher incidence of infections.

Research findings suggest that hospital administrators and health care policymakers be cautious about safety, and avoid outsourcing environmental service work.

The awardees will be honored June 1 at the association’s annual conference in Seattle, Wash.