An unfortunate part of working in the hospitality industry is the likelihood that at some point, you or a staff member will encounter an unattended death, either in a guest’s room or elsewhere on the grounds. It happens at the most humble of motels, and the grandest of resorts.
Does your company have a plan for when an employee discovers a death in a hotel room? We at BioRecovery, a national biohazard remediation company, have responded to a high volume of calls from our clients in the hospitality industry in the past year. Only a few of them had never before experienced the death of a hotel guest.
The High Rate of Deaths in Hotels
Why are there so many deaths in hotel and motel guest rooms? Given the high turnover of occupants, chances are someone will die of natural causes. The stress, excitement, and fatigue of travel, whether it’s for business or pleasure, can trigger heart attacks or strokes. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, we can expect to encounter more hotel and resort-related unattended death cases of this nature.
In rare occasions, the hotel room is the scene of a violent crime resulting in a traumatic death. We’ve responded to situations in which victims of domestic abuse, trying to get some space from their abuser, were tracked down and murdered on hotel property.
Unfortunately, most of the calls we receive for hotel and motel death cleanup services involve suicides by gunshot, wrist-cutting, intentional overdose, or asphyxiation. People who are planning to kill themselves often choose to do so in hotels or motels so as not to leave their families with the responsibility and emotional trauma of suicide cleanup. Hotel staff personnel aren’t prepared (on any level) to clean up blood from hotel room suicides, either, and being strangers to the deceased doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
The Unpleasant Process of Human Decomposition
Even when your guest has died of natural causes and is discovered shortly after, the human body releases fluids and solids that can penetrate porous materials in the unit. If your guest isn’t discovered for several hours or even days, the body’s natural breakdown process will leave behind gases, liquids, excreta, and tissue that is inappropriate and hazardous for your housekeeping staff to address.
Violent deaths and injuries, including gunshot wounds, distribute blood and tissue outside the immediate area. Tissue and bone can become embedded in surfaces, or lay undiscovered behind furniture or in carpet fibers.
The odors associated with unattended deaths and poorly-executed death cleanup attract flies and other pests long after the body is removed and insufficient “cosmetic” trauma cleanup is finished. Imagine your guests and staff reporting that they’ve found maggots and pupae in the crevices of mattresses, baseboards, or other infected surfaces.
The whole process of crime scene cleanup, suicide cleanup, and biohazard removal associated with natural or traumatic death requires more than adherence to OSHA guidelines, our staff’s stringent training, and our proprietary equipment and processes. It requires a prepared mindset. Biohazard Remediation, especially in cases in which there’s been a death in a hotel room or any location away from home, requires that we treat you and your clients with sensitivity and professionalism. Our technicians are also able to perform their duties in the face of emotionally traumatic situations.
Hotel Room Death Cleanup: It’s Not an In-House Job
Most of the time, we arrive to clean up the scene of a death immediately after it occurs, and it’s obvious what we’re dealing with.
Sometimes we don’t know what happened, because the establishment attempted to remediate the situation themselves, asking staff or their usual carpet cleaners to clean up blood and body fluids in hotel rooms affected by a violent unattended death. Only after guests have reported bad odors and stains (which can suddenly appear months after the incident) did the hotel or motel’s management finally call in the services of a licensed biohazard remediation company.
Case Study: Incomplete Hotel Death Cleanup Hits Too Close to Home
One of our technicians, Drew, has an example of how a guest can easily sense that something disturbing happened in their improperly-sanitized motel room.
“After we go through our extensive training, we experience the same kind of thing med students do: They begin diagnosing everyone they know—and themselves—because pathogens and death are always on their minds. For us, we can’t check into a hotel room without inspecting all the vents, bed frames, and tiles for signs that someone died there. So when my wife and I moved cross-country to work at another one of the BioRecovery locations, I drove her crazy turning the room upside-down.”
Drew didn’t find anything on their journey, but his wife got a wake-up call (no pun intended) when she and their young daughter stayed in an upscale hotel for a friend’s wedding.
“She called me up and said, ‘Babe, it totally smells like somebody died in here.’ At first, I thought she was just kidding—I mean, haven’t we all said that at one time? But she was serious, so I told her where to look, without touching anything and while holding her breath. She found three different places that indicated somebody had definitely died there in that hotel room. Blood cleanup wasn’t properly done, and I can only imagine what bloodborne pathogens and bodily fluids were lurking in the corners. So I told her to get out of there ASAP and insist on another room.”
Drew always ends this story by saying that his wife never again made fun of him for inspecting their travel accommodations and that as much as he enjoyed the “I told you so” moment, the situation was sobering.
“You never want to find signs that someone died or was killed in your hotel room,” said Drew. “It’s not just creepy; it’s dangerous. I had a whole new appreciation for the importance of my job after what happened to my family. I mean, my daughter wasn’t even two; she touches everything, spends half of her time on the floor, and is obsessed with putting stuff in her mouth.”
Biohazard Remediation for Hotel Deaths
After a body is discovered, reported to the authorities, and removed, it’s the responsibility of the hotel or motel owner to supervise the cleanup of residues commonly left behind after a death in a guest room. Following are the issues that need careful attention in order to properly sanitize the hotel unit:
Removal of any affected porous material. Machine washing doesn’t always remove stains, and standard carpet shampooing can actually spread bloodborne pathogens, even sending them airborne. These affected materials include:
- Mattress and box spring
- Towels and rugs
Inspection and sanitization of air ducts and vents: Velocity causes blood and body fluids to “mist”, and these microscopic droplets can get everywhere…especially into HVAC systems. A reputable biohazard remediation company won’t miss these important “hot spots”, which harbor hepatitis, MRSA, and other pathogens for days after hotel suicides or other traumatic death and injury situations.
Inspection and sanitation of all hard surfaces: Blood cleanup involves more than what your housekeeping staff keeps on hand. BioRecovery uses specialized cleaning products formulated to sanitize non-porous surfaces infected with a variety of chemical-resistant pathogens and odor-causing substances.
Inspection and removal of any affected subflooring: Improper carpet cleaning and drying can force infected blood and body fluids further down into your unit’s subflooring, causing odors and attracting insects long after the incident. We employ special cleaning products, shampoo machines, and drying fans designed to isolate, sterilize, and dehydrate any flooring deemed repairable. Earlier, we mentioned stains that appear weeks after the event. This is often due to damp, infected sub-flooring releasing moisture into the newly-laid carpet.
Inspection and sanitation of fixtures, moldings, and drywall: Cleaning the scene of a violent death requires extraordinary attention to detail, and we use special blood-detecting equipment and chemicals to find residual proteins and tissue. Switch plates, lighting fixtures, ceiling fans, and the undersides of countertops and tables won’t be missed by a professional. Damaged drywall or ceiling panels—a common result of suicides and gunshots—will be cut out and replaced. For your guests’ safety, we discard items that are impossible to be sanitized.
Attention to tile grout and bathroom fixtures: Blood spills in bathrooms seep into gaps in grout and between tiles. It drains into the gaps between toilets and flooring. BioRecovery identifies these issues, thoroughly cleans affected areas, and removes and repairs them as necessary.
Discretion and Safety: Our job is to provide you and your guest’s peace of mind and a healthy environment. Our technicians are respectful of your other guests, and use discretion as they conduct their business.
We set up “clean” areas in which our technicians can change in and out of their safety gear (safe biohazard remediation requires special coveralls, masks, and high-end respirators) out of view of your guests, and we can coordinate with your managers to perform our duties when your customers and staff will experience the least disruption.
Have a Plan in Place
Our clients in the hospitality industry have developed protocols for their staff to follow when a guest has passed away on the premises. Here’s a basic outline from which you can develop your own.
- Upon discovery, if it’s clear the guest is deceased, immediately leave and close up the room. If it appears the guest is alive, perform CPR but do not allow anyone else inside.
- If the deceased was accompanied by a surviving friend or family member, assign a manager to move them to an appropriate area, provide comfort, and help them make necessary calls and arrangements.
- Contact a supervisor, who will then summon the authorities before taking the following steps.
- If possible, calmly divert and restrict access to that area of the building.
- When the authorities arrive, guide them to the room, and if it’s on an upper floor, designate and reserve an elevator—preferably a large service elevator capable of holding a gurney.
- Contact us at BioRecovery; we’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Once the body is removed and the police have completed their investigation (required in the case of unattended deaths) lock up the unit until your crime scene cleanup professionals have arrived.
Our own timeline depends upon the extent to which the hotel room has been contaminated by body fluids, and upon arrival, our technicians can provide an estimated completion time. We work quickly, but not at the expense of thoroughness and safety.
Build a Relationship with BioRecovery
Whether you operate a nationwide hotel chain or run a family-owned motel, you want your customer care to extend beyond their physical comfort. You want to protect their health. And it’s not inappropriate to say that you want to protect your company’s reputation.
We’ve established the trust of our clients, and frequently conduct natural death and traumatic suicide cleanups at hotel chains across the country. You and your staff have already gone above and beyond to tend to your customers, preserve the dignity of the deceased, and assist the surviving family members. It’s our mission to step in and look after you from that point forward. Please contact us today to learn more about BioRecovery’s extended services, and how we can assist you in the future.