CHICAGO — George Spilios, co-president of Crown Uniform and Linen, a more than 100-year-old, family-owned operation serving nonprofits and businesses in New England, says that at the onset of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, every business immediately turned extra attention to jobs that require the most protection from infection.
In linen and uniform services, this pointed to soil rooms.
Crown examined how its stringent safety standards in this function might apply to other steps in laundry processing, such as identifying applicable provisions of bloodborne pathogens regulations to handling clean linen.
“Due in part to our focus on Hygienically Clean, it was easy to recognize how this could be done,” he says. “We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
“In the last five years, infection prevention has really stepped up at hospitals,” adds Cort Naab, safety manager of Crown Health Care Laundry Services, an independent, full-service healthcare laundry processor and linen management company founded in 1955 that services customers in the Southeast.
“And I think the pandemic just gave them more fire and more ammunition to really make sure that they’re keeping all patients and all doctors and safe as possible, which is a good thing. But it definitely gave infection prevention at hospitals a lot of a lot of room to make sure that they’re providing the best services for their hospitals.”
There are two main ways that laundries in North America can prove that they provide best services and hygienic goods for customers: Hygienically Clean Certification from TRSA, the association for linen, uniform and facility services, accreditation from the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC).
Both entities provided insight to American Laundry News on the value of having such proof of hygienic cleanliness, the effect of the pandemic and ways laundries can better promote such proofs in the COVID-19 world.
TRSA HYGIENICALLY CLEAN
TRSA says laundries value Hygienically Clean certification because it assures customers that their laundries take extensive steps to minimize the risk of clean linen and uniforms harboring or transmitting infection.
Standard requirements such as a Quality Assurance (QA) manual, independent third-party inspection and ongoing quarterly microbiological testing of cleaned items improve laundering efficiencies and effectiveness. These benefits of certification reassure customers that laundries earning the Hygienically Clean designation are focused on continuous improvement and customer support.
Crown Uniform and Linen sees the microbiological content threshold requirements of TRSA’s Hygienically Clean certification as the highest standard of laundry cleanliness. Measuring these in samples of laundered textiles “provides the ultimate value to all of our customers across all of our verticals,” says Co-President Plato Spilios.
Since the onset of the pandemic, customers and the public have become acutely aware of the importance of cleanliness and hygiene, TRSA shares, adding that the Hygienically Clean designation instills customer and public confidence that the linens, uniforms, garments and other reusable textiles are free of contamination.
“Hygienically Clean certification is a necessity for serving our healthcare clients and a halo for our company to customers in every industry as the pandemic has increased conscientiousness about cleanliness in all business operations,” adds George Spilios.
“Certification validates the effectiveness of the practices we’ve established for the health and safety of our employees and our customers and their workplaces—processes we reinforce with training, awareness and accountability.”
Interest in the Hygienically Clean programs, particularly for Food Service and Hospitality, has increased dramatically while Hygienically Clean Healthcare and Food Safety continue to grow with nearly 250 plants certified Hygienically Clean worldwide, according to TRSA.
The implementation of virtual inspections during the pandemic has ensured continued diligence of third-party inspections and facilitated program growth outside of North America to South America, Asia and the Middle East.
TRSA says that it is most important for laundries serving acute (hospital) and non-acute (outpatient) settings to promote their certification. Continuing to generate awareness and highlighting the benefits of using a Hygienically Clean-certified laundry help educate customers and the public.
TRSA says that its efforts, and the efforts of certified laundries, have made Hygienically Clean a requirement included in request for proposals (RFP). This importance is reflected in the prominent placement of Hygienically Clean logos in certified plant websites, marketing communications, social media, vehicles, business cards and more.
Plato Spilios likens Hygienically Clean to the International Organization for Standards (ISO) 9000 family of quality management systems, recognized for prompting organizations to meet customer and other stakeholder needs within statutory and regulatory requirements. Both are focused on ensuring companies live up to their quality assurance documentation.
Rather than prescribing practices specifically, both recognize that a variety of tactics can be used to achieve critical standards.
The importance of promotion has increased in other markets more dramatically than healthcare since COVID-19 as these other laundry customers have been increasingly pressed to demonstrate to their customers essentially every step they are taking to protect employees and production, says TRSA.
Hygienically Clean Food Safety leads the way in this respect. While the chance of a uniform or towel facilitating a COVID-19 outbreak in a food manufacturing plant is essentially nonexistent, infection prevention, in general, is a significant challenge for these facilities as social distancing and housekeeping must take place constantly.
Hygienically Clean-certified since 2014, Crown Uniform and Linen sees its history of compliance adding to its credibility as opposed to having earned the designation just before or during the pandemic.
“It’s clear to our customers that we don’t just talk the talk. We’ve been living this for years,” says Plato Spilios. “Focusing on the health and safety of customers and employees is not filling a void or checking a box. It’s ingrained in corporate culture.”
To those who took advantage of it and all of its available benefits, those who passed inspection to earn it, or those who made it a condition of doing business, HLAC says its accreditation value was apparent well before COVID-19.
And that value has only increased since then.
“Crown (Health Care Laundry Services ) has always been HLAC-accredited, and the big part of that is it’s a way for us to show our customers that we’re staying on top of industry best practices for maintenance of our equipment, cleaning and sanitizing our laundry, and are producing clean laundry,” Naab says.
“It guarantees that laundries are using best practices and that we’re providing the best possible product for hospitals to keep patients safe.”
Those working daily with healthcare textiles (HCTs), such as healthcare laundry operators, infection prevention (IP) staff, and environmental services (EVS) staff all understood, before COVID-19, the importance of processing healthcare textiles according to the highest standards of infection prevention and patient safety, says HLAC.
“Being the safety manager, when our sales and marketing team need to have questions answered, they often come to me and I use that accreditation,” shares Naab.
“I can answer most of the questions as to what we’re doing, but I usually use accreditation as the validation. We are doing it, we go through inspection processes and it’s been very helpful.”
COVID-19, if anything, has further elevated this value. Fundamentally, HLAC says a large part of accreditation has always been about preventing the spread of pathogens through adherence to following standard best practices.
Put another way, it’s endeavoring to keep healthcare textiles, for patient and healthcare staff use, hygienically clean, through proper standard wash formulas, hand hygiene, functional separation, linen protection, environmental parameters, surface disinfection, etc.
If that sounds similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19, it is because they are similar, HLAC points out. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a pathogen that can be harmful to humans. It spreads in all the ways that HLAC standards are designed to prevent such as:
- Dirty hands—HLAC has standards around hand hygiene.
- Airborne droplets—HLAC has standards minimizing airborne contact with clean linen.
- Contaminated surfaces—HLAC has standards around regular disinfection of surfaces that touch clean linen.
- Proper pathogen removal from HCT—HLAC has standards around proper wash formulas for the removal of harmful pathogens from HCT.
Another point HLAC says is worth mentioning: COVID-19 is triggering a dramatic transformation from disposable to reusable protective gowns for use by healthcare personnel (HCP) as well as a switch to reusable microfibers for use in healthcare environmental cleaning.
Reusables offer clear environmental advantages, superior performance and protection, financial benefits, and more predictable availability. But the caveat is that the many advantages of reusables will only be realized if they are processed according to standards in an accredited facility.
Therefore, HLAC says, the value of accreditation has increased even more with the dramatic switch by hospitals to reusable textiles.
COVID-19 has highlighted the criticality of infection prevention in daily living. HLAC says its accreditation has always been about infection prevention in processing HCT. Becoming an accredited healthcare laundry is worth promoting now, more than ever.
It’s worth promoting the rigorous measures a laundry has taken to achieve this distinction, for example, the more than 600 standards that have to be met to receive it, and in many ways, HLAC says accreditation and infectious disease prevention are one and the same.
“We received questions about our accreditation and our processes early in the pandemic, and we cited HLAC accreditation as a positive thing,” Naab shares.
As stated above, HLAC suggests to laundries promoting to customers, potential customers and the public/media:
- That a facility is accredited.
- What accreditation means, especially around infection prevention.
- The many rigorous steps (more than 600) the facility undertook to achieve accreditation.
- Leveraging HLAC’s on-going communications regarding accreditation and its benefits.
HLAC also suggests highlighting that a laundry followed these standards and best practices well before the advent of COVID-19.
Countering Concerns in Healthcare Laundry Sanitation (Part 1), Feb. 25, 2020
Countering Concerns in Healthcare Laundry Sanitation (Conclusion), Feb. 27, 2020