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In the Event of a Flu Pandemic, What's Your Plan?

Eric Frederick |

Last month, I provided some background about what you might expect to happen in a pandemic flu. This month, I’m going to discuss what a “Pandemic Flu Response Plan” related to healthcare laundries should include to be effective.
The first thing is a statement recognizing the essential nature of clean linens in providing patient care.
Too often, laundry workers feel that processing textiles is not an important part of the delivery of healthcare. This is particularly true for off-site laundries where the workers never come in direct contact with the patients or the caregivers.
We need to constantly remind them of their importance and how clean linen plays a critical role in providing proper patient care.
Our employees need to understand that during bad weather, civil unrest or flu pandemics, their job of providing clean linen is essential to the health and welfare of the communities we serve.
The next section of the policy needs to detail what precautionary actions your company will be taking.
Because a pandemic will most likely be well under way before an official declaration is made, your company needs to have a list of precautionary actions that are routinely performed.
Each year, the medical profession creates flu shots that are targeted toward the most likely flu strain to hit that year. I recommend that these shots be made available to all laundry employees free of charge. While I acknowledge that these shots will not, by definition, protect against a major flu pandemic, it’s a great place to start.
Proper hand-washing techniques should be emphasized and, like in the cruise industry, hand sanitizers should be placed at key locations throughout the laundry. Employees should be required to stop and use them frequently. Masks should be made available to employees who handle soiled linen.
Existing customer lists should be reviewed and prioritized based on which facilities are direct patient-care facilities and which are secondary or nonhealthcare-related. This list will become vital in allocating scarce resources.
The laundry should be aware of each hospital’s Pandemic Response Plan and incorporate key contacts and response coordinators at each facility into their plan.
Laundry management should establish working relationships with various temporary employment agencies so that, in the event of a flu pandemic, these companies can be used to acquire additional staff.
The laundry should have established backup agreements with other local laundries. These agreements are essential in responding to the laundry’s inability to produce linen because of fire, weather or major equipment breakdown.
The very nature of a pandemic, with its rapid and widespread illness, will most likely make these backup agreements useless.
The next section of the plan should deal with implementation, which includes who is authorized to activate the plan and a detailed list of steps to be taken in response to a pandemic.
The director or manager will determine staffing levels necessary to carry out the essential functions of the laundry and schedule staff accordingly. Service to nonhealthcare customers (health clubs, motels, etc.) will be curtailed if necessary.
The director or manager will review the needs of surgery centers and outpatient therapy clinics, which will most likely close for the duration of the pandemic.
Employees may be requested to stay at or near the laundry should the director or manager deem it necessary. Employees should be:
A. Completely relieved of work and allowed to leave the work area;
B. Completely relieved until a definite, specified time; and
C. The relief period should be long enough for employees to use as they choose.
If the director or manager requests nonexempt (hourly) employees to stay at or near the laundry while they’re not working, on-call pay will be paid for the appropriate time period.
Overnight accommodations and/or subsidized meals may be arranged for employees at the discretion of the director or manager.
The director or manager will coordinate staffing needs with the local hospitals that the laundry services to see if there’s a pool of available employees. This pool will be staffed from nonessential departments. Therefore, the employees are available for assignment to other areas as needed.
The director or manager will make full use of available temporary employment staff from approved agencies to help fill in.
The final section should review the company’s pay policies and how employees will be fairly compensated for their efforts during this difficult period of time.
This should help you get started developing your own plan. I write this as a starting point, not the ultimate answer as to what should or should not be in such a policy.
Make use of your local resources and open the dialogue with your customers on a proactive basis. This is one situation in which we must be willing to partner with our customers to meet the goal of quality healthcare during an emergency.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at efrederick@carilion.com.

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