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Educate Users on True Cost of Linen Abuse (Part 1)

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(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

"My 'customers' need to be instructed or reminded about the costs of linen abuse. What steps can my laundry operation take to train them and minimize these occurrences?"

HEALTHCARE LAUNDRY: SCOTT BEATON, KAISER PERMANENTE NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

scott beatonIt has been my experience that most linen users do not fully comprehend the costs involved in linen replacement and laundry processing. Products are misused, abused, given to patients and in some cases thrown away.

It is vital to continually conduct departmental surveys with the help of the linen management team and laundry/linen vendors to illustrate to end-users the annual costs of linen abuse and misuse.

It is during these types of audits that a number of poor linen practices can be discovered and observed, such as:

  • Housekeepers using good-quality washcloths as rags
  • Housekeepers using towels as liners underneath buckets on their carts
  • Nursing and staff using bath towels and other linen products to clean up spills
  • Unacceptable linen (stained/torn) being placed in soiled-linen hampers or thrown into the garbage
  • Linen with bodily fluids/blood being “red bagged” and sent out with infectious waste
  • Finding linen in visitor lounges
  • Hoarding of linen in storage closets
  • Too much linen being taken into patient rooms as a matter of convenience
  • Bath towels being used as liners beneath plants
  • Thermal blankets being used to cover air conditioning units and the areas under windowsills to trap cold air

To minimize these occurrences, help the end-users develop a facility-wide action plan.

Initiate an intensive public relations and linen awareness program for all staff. It should be part of new-employee orientation as well as continuing education.

Utilize the assistance of both the linen management team and linen/laundry vendors. Help them to initiate “Linen Awareness Days,” which have been proven effective in increasing end-users’ knowledge. Typically, a “manned” exhibit is set up outside the cafeteria, and employees participate in contests that touch on issues concerning laundry/linen costs, misuse, and abuse.

COMMERCIAL LAUNDRY: TOM GILDRED, EMERALD TEXTILES, SAN DIEGO, CALIF.

tom gildredThe costs associated with linen abuse can be surprisingly high, and while the decision makers in our customer organizations are often aware of those costs, sometimes the hospital staff benefits from awareness and education in this area. Communication, training and a strong partnership are the keys to limiting unnecessary expenses associated with damaged linen.

First, it’s important to discover, or uncover, the issues. One way to do this is through regular floor tours with the hospital team, during which improper handling is identified and documented. Hospital tape applied to sheets is a primary offense. This practice can ruin as many as 10 sheets that follow one that has gone through the ironers.

Substantial savings can be realized through simple suggestions such as using sheets or bath blankets that have been taken out of service as rags to pick up spills, clean up paint and grease, or wax floors. It also might be a good opportunity to offer the benefits of a microfiber program, which is not only green and sustainable but also more effective for the hospital housekeeping team.

Sharing findings with the nursing staff and end-users on a regular basis should have the largest impact on cost control. One can gain further support by offering solutions to hospital administration, which may lead to a stronger partnership in the long run. Over time, cultural changes promoting sustainability and cost containment should have a significant impact on reducing linen abuse.

Another important step is regularly monitoring internal laundry facility processes and quality control programs to ensure that best practices are employed, as well as to eliminate the possibility of processing becoming a factor in damaged linens. Documenting those processes and programs to provide customers with evidence of quality control is another good step to ensure communication and solid partnership.

Sometimes a complaint comes in that “The laundry is ruining my linen.” The majority of linen replacement is due to linen damage and abuse occurring at customers’ facilities. Processors are well served to implement and adhere to a strong quality assurance program that demonstrates their commitment to customers. When issues arise at the facility level, it’s important to make it a policy to acknowledge and address problems in a timely manner and to communicate with the customer about the resolution as quickly as possible.

Building an honest, communicative partnership with customers can aid in working together to provide and maintain high-quality linen and greater patient satisfaction.

LINEN SUPPLY: STEPHEN MARCQ, GENERAL LINEN SERVICE, SOMERSWORTH, N.H.

stephen marcqThe best time to talk to your customers about the costs of linen abuse is right now! Really, it starts in the sales process for new customers, and by ensuring that linen conservation requirements are introduced correctly at a new-account installation.

It’s harder to break a customer of a bad habit than it is to start good ones. By helping your customer take better care of your items while they are in his possession, you lower your own linen replacement and processing costs, which allows your (his) pricing to remain lower longer. It truly is a win-win for both sides, and a great way to partner with customers for mutual benefit.

Whether it’s a new or existing customer, start by ensuring there are enough soil containers to ensure the customer can pre-sort linen to your requirements. Typically, storing soiled garments, kitchen towels, aprons, tablecloths and napkins in their own separate containers will help prevent damage from improper storage.

Make sure that soil bags are stored in a dry, secure area in between pickups. Provide laminated bilingual signage with a picture of the item over each bag, and install them. Make sure that items used are appropriate for their intended use. Most of us wouldn’t want to rent a bath towel to an auto detailing shop, for example, but perhaps a #2 grade is appropriate for that application. Also, ensure that items in service are being used for their intended purpose, i.e. don’t allow napkins or washcloths to be used for cleaning tasks.

If your system allows, identify abusers through your soil room, and single them out for special attention and increased management visits. At scheduled account visits, include linen conservation evaluation and discussion as part of your regular talking points. Sometimes, selling or giving away bags of rags for heavy cleaning tasks is a great solution.

Remember, too, that the employee who sees your customer most often is your route service representative (RSR). Leverage that relationship. Ensure your RSR maintains the conservation initiatives you have in place and talks to his contact about results and opportunities often.

Make sure that your conservation message is reaching the right ears. The people using the product are the usual targets for the message, but make sure the people paying the bills are in the loop, too. If you reach both end-users and payers, you will have covered all your bases and helped set yourself up for the best possible outcome.

Billing for damaged items is a last resort that can be viewed as problematic. If you’ve laid the proper groundwork and gained the understanding and support from the customer during the process, you can and should expect to be paid for misused or damaged rental product. The alternative to not billing when appropriate is to simply include the cost of damage in every customer’s pricing, which essentially penalizes the good customers who have to pay some of the freight for the abusive ones.

Lastly, consider negotiating and agreeing on some form of recurring damage billing for abusers who can’t or won’t change their operation, to help avoid billing fluctuations and associated pain.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2!

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