CHICAGO — For Barbara Williams, operations manager of consultative services at Standard Textile, defining the word “quality” can be somewhat of a challenge.
“Why is it such a challenge?” Williams asks. “Because there is no universal interpretation. Quality means different things to different people.”
Williams tackled the subject in a recent Association for Linen Management (ALM) webinar titled Building a Successful Linen Quality Assurance Program, offered to help laundry managers and healthcare facilities establish best practices and standards in their own programs.
“In today’s healthcare environment, it’s imperative to provide a high-quality, hygienically clean and safe product to the end-user,” says Williams. “With current changes in hospital reimbursements, patient outcomes and patient satisfaction will have a major impact on the financial health of your facility, or your customers. Strong quality assurance programs are essential.”
HEALTHCARE FACILITY’S ROLE
Linen responsibilities not only lie with the laundry but with the healthcare facility as well, according to Williams. “If the healthcare facility owns the linen, then it’s their responsibility to purchase the proper quality of linen,” she says. “Poor-quality products produce poor results. A laundry cannot be held responsible for the life of an inferior product.”
Healthcare facilities should maintain adequate linen inventory to not only preserve the life of linens, but to attain fill rates, she adds. “It’s also the healthcare facility’s responsibility to set and document measurable standards. You want to set them, you want to document them and you want to have a way to measure them,” says Williams.
Removing nonlinen objects from soiled laundry also should be a priority for healthcare facilities, Williams recommends. “Once it gets to the laundry … the high production in the laundry can’t catch every tape and lead that comes through in that soiled linen,” she says.
And as the “first line of defense,” Williams adds that healthcare facilities also should take part in a linen “reject program” to properly set up standards as to which types of damaged linens can still be deemed acceptable for use.
“One very popular method of culling out unacceptable linen is putting a ‘Clean Unacceptable’ linen bag on the linen carts when they go to the floor,” says Williams. “Linen distribution then collects that unacceptable linen and can inspect it and rewash or discard as needed.”
No process can ever be perfect, and Williams acknowledged this, saying that on the laundry’s end, customers can have “unrealistic” expectations. “That’s why it’s very important to have a good partnership, good communication to set those expectations together.”
Managers should be realistic with staff production goals, she adds.
“If you’re a laundry [that] provides incentives to production staff based upon volume, this could cause some quality concerns, because they may be trying to reach their goal and skimp on the quality end.”
And though laundry managers and healthcare facilities may agree on a linen standard they believe is acceptable, patients and their families may think otherwise, which can affect a healthcare facility’s standing in patient surveys such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey, and the Press Ganey patient satisfaction survey, according to Williams.
In addition to external challenges, laundries and healthcare facilities can face internal challenges. “We also have the language barriers in the laundries today, and they can be a challenge,” she says. “Using visuals can help a lot, in that respect.”
QUALITY ASSURANCE OUTCOMES
Establishing and adhering to a quality assurance program can have many benefits. Laundries will save time and money by avoiding reprocessing linen, and it can reduce linen loss and mysterious disappearances, according to Williams, leading to not only delighted customers, but customer retention, as well.
For healthcare facilities, utilizing a quality assurance program to ensure linen cleanliness will improve patient scores, according to Williams. “It’s going to enhance your credibility and your image in the marketplace.”
The results will not only be appreciated by patients, but staff as well, she adds. “If the staff has what they need, when they need it, in a good quality, they don’t have to go searching for linens,” says Williams. “If they have products that are protecting them, [they are] going to be much more satisfied in their jobs, and therefore you can retain those employees.”
To ensure these outcomes, Williams stressed that quality is everyone’s responsibility.
“Whether you’re a laundry, whether you’re linen distribution, whether you’re a healthcare facility, everyone has to work together to provide a quality and safe product to your staff and to your patients,” she says. “If you do that, your customer and staff will applaud you.”