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.”
SETTING CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS
Regardless of whether a laundry facility processes rental linens or customer-owned goods (COG), Williams first highlighted the importance of laundry managers soliciting customer input, feedback and recommendations. “You need to solicit customer input as far as their expectations and what they will agree is acceptable product in their system,” she says.
Williams pointed out that expectations between a rental laundry and a COG plant can differ. “COG is going to have a lot more input … on what those standards of quality should be, whereas a [rental] laundry will also have a large say in the products that they keep circulating in the system,” she says.
Despite the differences in expectations, as a laundry, the goal is providing quality product.
“As laundry managers, you must provide a hygienically clean product in order to minimize the risk of spreading infection, and also provide a clean experience for the customer,” says Williams. “With new research on microorganisms that can survive on textiles, this is extremely important.”
Another set of responsibilities to which laundry managers must adhere when setting up a linen quality assurance program is following regulatory guidelines, says Williams. Organizations such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, The Joint Commission, Association of periOperative Registered Nurses and ALM have set standards and guidelines on processing healthcare linen, she says.
Not only should laundries maintain a separation of soiled and clean linen, proper equipment maintenance and monitoring chemicals are essential, Williams adds.
“If the equipment is not maintained, it can destroy the linen,” she says. “And improper chemicals can destroy the linen. It’s important to be sure to provide the proper pH value to your customers for good clinical outcomes.”
Meeting deadlines is vital. “Another quality responsibility is timely processing,” adds Williams. “You need to have agreed-upon turnaround time with your customers, and you need to follow and produce that turnaround time.”
In the laundry process, items such as surgical adhesives and other disposable objects can get mixed in with the linen, says Williams. She advises to check linen, such as scrubs, lab coats and uniform pockets, to remove such objects to ensure cleanliness.
“As laundry people, you’re probably thinking … the healthcare facility is responsible [for this], and I do agree with you,” she says. “However, if they do not adhere to their responsibilities, then you need to take on that responsibility in your laundry.”
“Also look at the appearance of proper folding of the linen and the hanging of the linen that will appear to your customers as cleanliness and neatness,” Williams adds. “In the packing and transport, you need to make sure that the linen is covered … and that soiled-linen collection carts are put through a cart wash as needed.”
Other responsibilities, like inspecting linen for visible stains, holes and tears, are par for the course. But Williams adds that other processes that may not necessarily be standard procedure are important, as well.
“If you provide a surgical program and process surgical linen, you may be responsible for inspection of those surgical products,” she says, adding that such tasks would include folding linen according to the doctors’ and nurses’ recommendations; patching; ensuring barrier quality of surgical linens; and discarding linens that are no longer useful.
For laundry facilities that process surgical linens, Williams also stressed the importance of having cleanliness standards documented. “Inspect each item carefully. When it comes to surgical products, it’s even more critical than patient floor procedures."
She highlighted best practices, such as utilizing overhead lighting to inspect linens for lint and stains, and barrier testing in processing surgical products. “Even if the product has not reached its life expectancy and cycle, it is possible that the barrier quality has been compromised if the wrong laundering procedures are used,” says Williams. “Barrier tests of some products should be done randomly, preferably on a daily basis.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!