CHICAGO — Healthcare laundry standards have been a hot topic over the past few years.
Every time an infection outbreak occurs, and linen services companies are implicated in the outbreak, standards in the healthcare laundry industry go under the microscope.
What are the standards? Are the standards stringent enough?
And who verifies that laundries are observing the necessary protocols?
Industrywide, healthcare laundry professionals agree that self-regulation is appropriate and effective to meet accepted industry standards, along with meeting requirements of organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Linda Fairbanks, executive director of the Association for Linen Management (ALM), says that her association supports efforts to improve practices and believes that voluntary laundry regulation programs can help to advance this aim.
“It’s recommended that each laundry research published best practices and follow to the best ability,” says Nancy Jenkins, executive director of the American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA).
“Improving safety and compliance of every laundry facility improves service to our industry’s customers and raises the level of professionalism of the entire industry,” adds Joseph Ricci, CEO and president of the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA).
Two programs have come to the forefront when it comes to healthcare laundry self-regulation: the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) program and TRSA’s Hygienically Clean Healthcare certification.
Both HLAC’s accreditation and TRSA’s certification come at a cost to the company seeking to be approved.
THE FUTURE OF STANDARDS
Healthcare laundry standards and self-regulation are not going away, and no one in the industry wants them to go away. If anything, the feeling is that standards and practices, and the self-regulation programs, will become more stringent.
Jenkins says, “I see standards becoming stricter, as the issue of infection control will only grow larger in the marketplace.”
Ricci expects that experience and research findings are likely to lead to improved best practices in the future.
“We do not expect any increase in incidents questioning existing practices, however,” he adds. “Trillions of pounds of linen have been processed over decades with no indication that clean laundry transmits infectious disease. Situations have arisen involving transportation or storage, but not the actual cleaning of the linen. Launderers need to remain diligent and vigilant, but patient safety has never been a problem, so it’s important not to overregulate. For certifiers, improving best practices and executing properly are essential.”
John Scherberger, president of the board of directors of HLAC, hopes to keep the government from getting involved in the regulation process.
“We’re hoping that the government looks at what’s going on and says ‘HLAC, you’ve got a good standard, a good process, your accredited laundries are putting out quality products and safe products,’” he says.
“Accreditation can be an excellent tool for assessing the knowledge, skills and abilities of a laundry processing facility,” Fairbanks says. “However, it is important for hospitals to realize that properly processing/washing textiles is a process that should be continually measured and monitored, requiring necessary adjustments.
“One significant and important reminder to healthcare facilities utilizing a contracted (includes cooperative) laundry provider is that the customer themselves are ultimately responsible to CMS for the oversight of their laundry contractor and the quality of the services provided to the patient.”