CHICAGO — Healthcare laundries face a multitude of issues that impact both patient health and their own business.
Case in point, the recent wrongful death lawsuits against Paris Cos. and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). Several families of patients with serious diseases or undergoing transplants sued both the laundry and the hospital because the patients died after allegedly contracting mold-related infections from tainted bed linens.
The lawsuits are ongoing, but the issues facing Paris Cos. are ones every healthcare laundry must face and address: infection control and linen security. Other challenges that healthcare laundries face are sustainability, competition from disposables, and cost management.
In order to deal with these issues, experts say healthcare laundries must continually grow and change.
“The impact (of these issues) is to see this as an opportunity to make our companies better, stronger and more valuable to the customer as a partner,” says David Potack, senior vice president of Unitex, a healthcare uniform and linen rental provider.
Laundries competing in healthcare will need to be more professional in their operations by improving employee training, developing stronger management and providing skilled understanding of healthcare regulations and practices, says Keith Ware, vice president of sales for equipment manufacturer Lavatec Laundry Technology Inc.
“If the laundry cannot provide a hygienic product, meet the customers’ linen requirements and do it cost-effectively, their business will suffer,” he says. “Gone are the days where a good employee can progress to the management level without gaining these skills to operate a laundry efficiently and under the many requirements for cleaning healthcare linen.”
Ware says that healthcare laundries must professionalize their businesses and employees, and search for continual improvement.
“Many of the nation’s largest laundry companies have struggled or gone out of business by becoming complacent, not reinvesting in their business and not focusing on the customer’s needs, wants and desires,” he says.
“If we address these issues openly with customers to develop true partnerships with them, we can improve service and value, creating opportunities for linen, uniform and facility service companies to become stronger and more valuable,” says Joseph Ricci, president and CEO of TRSA, the association for the linen, uniform and facility services industry. “If we do not address them honestly and openly, there will be real challenges from disposable products and pressure to further regulate laundries.”
As Ricci mentioned, an ongoing issue facing the healthcare laundry industry is reusable vs. disposable products.
“One challenge that everyone can agree on that adversely affects the industry is the proliferation of so-called disposables,” says John Scherberger, president of the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC). “Manufacturers of these products have much deeper pockets than textile manufacturers and healthcare laundries.”
Ricci says that the healthcare laundry industry needs to combat false claims by disposable product providers regarding the effectiveness, cleanliness and value of reusable products.
Scherberger says it is a continual challenge to get the message out that, in his opinion, disposables are not economical on any level for healthcare facilities. He adds that disposables are not as effective as reusable products, not good for the environment and cannot be certified as being as safe and sanitary as reusable textiles.
“Who from a local hospital or group purchasing organization goes to a factory in Asia to ensure manufacturing and packaging results in safe and sanitary products?” Scherberger asks. “Any healthcare laundry is open to visits from their customers at any time, and the HLAC encourages this. How many hospital administrators would willingly take cash out of their own pocket and throw it in the waste bin to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for large hospitals?”
Scherberger recommends that healthcare laundry owners read “A Comparison of Reusable and Disposable Perioperative Textiles: Sustainability State-of-the-Art 2012” by Michael Overcash, Ph.D., International Anesthesia Research Society, May 2012, Volume 114, Number 5. He says the article offers information to provide to hospital clients, particularly hospital sustainability directors and supply chain department directors.
“The information is a veritable gold mine of information for reusable textiles,” he says.
“When healthcare laundries are constantly facing new regulations and machine manufacturers are continuously improving washers to use significantly less water in processing laundry than even a decade ago, it’s difficult to understand how healthcare organizations, particularly hospital members of the American Hospital Association (AHA), who should be morally obligated to follow the AHA Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals, fail to take into consideration the economics and the environmental life cycle of disposables as well as their costs,” Scherberger says.
In line with the argument for reusable products, the experts see healthcare laundries keeping an eye on the sustainability of their processes and products.
“It is good to see that the laundry industry has been stepping up to the plate on environmental issues, safety and providing a clean and hygienic product,” Ware says.
Andrew Rupnow, founder and CEO of OMNI Solutions, says that laundry and linen service providers are beginning to focus on some different metrics and tracking progress in achieving improvement in these areas. He says that standards of cleanliness, water consumption and energy efficiency seen as acceptable today may not be in the future.
“The industry needs to develop appropriate value propositions around reducing waste, controlling costs and increasing sustainability while improving patient experience and combating continued price pressures,” says Ricci.
“Laundries need to embrace the latest state-of-the-art technologies and best practices available,” Rupnow says. “Water conservation, limiting toxins in effluent, reducing carbon footprint are all important. Achieving all of these things while reducing cost are major challenges.”
Miss part one on disposables and sustainability? Click here to read it. Check back Thursday for the conclusion on cost management and general strategy.