Increased Productivity Through Smarter Linen Purchases

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Eric Frederick |

Product recognition aids staff, columnist says

ROANOKE, Va. — Last month, I wrote about several things managers can do to improve productivity in the face of rising wages (click here to read). This month, I want to talk about how smarter linen purchases can increase productivity in the laundry and with healthcare staff.

My first rule is that each item should be readily recognizable. As a consultant, I have visited numerous laundries where the patient gown inventory looks like a mix of everything on the market. Perhaps in the interest of taking advantage of special sales, the person in charge of purchasing has varied the print and the styles. 

This unfortunately creates a nightmare for the laundry staff and the healthcare staff. They struggle to quickly determine which patient gown is a tie gown and which one is an IV gown. They also struggle to identify the size of the gown. Is it a large gown, 3X gown or a 10X gown? Time wasted determining the size and style hurts productivity, both in the laundry and in the hospital.

When I took over a laundry in Milwaukee, I inherited a linen supply in which the patient robes, pajama pants and extra-large patient gowns were all made from the same material and had the same print. Numerous nurse managers complained about how hard it was to get the right product off the linen carts. What had started out as a nice idea to coordinate patient apparel turned into a nightmare.

While it is difficult to determine how much time is lost in sorting out patient gowns in this type of situation, staff satisfaction and customer satisfaction are easily surveyed. I noticed an increase in satisfaction in both areas as this problem was corrected and the gowns became easily recognizable.  

Healthcare laundries are notorious for their large number of stock keeping units. Laundry managers often confuse success with the number of items they service. The simple fact is that as the number of items in the system increases, the productivity of the laundry and delivery staff decreases. Senior administration is often unaware of this issue and wonders why the laundry is not as productive as it used to be when numerous additional items are added to the linen system. 

High-productivity equipment is designed to process a large number of a single item at a time. Towel folders work best if a single-size towel is run through the machine for an hour or two at a time. Constantly switching between products cuts down on operator and machine efficiency. How a laundry sorts its soiled linen will affect the productivity on the clean side of the laundry.

Care should be taken to purchase linen items that are easily identifiable as to purpose and size. The more obvious the size markings on a surgical scrub, the better. It makes sizing and stocking that much easier. 

My second rule of linen purchasing is to be consistent. It is easy to say that an item like pillowcases could be purchased strictly on specifications and price. I have personally found that there is a significant difference between products as to how they are cut and made. Some pillowcases end up longer than others but not as wide. If width is the most important factor, then getting the long pillowcase does not help. 

I will continue this discussion about linens next month, when I will talk about size, blend and weight of the products.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Eric Frederick served 44 years in laundry management before retiring and remains active in the industry as a laundry operations consultant. You can contact him by e-mail at elfrederick@cox.net or by phone at 540-520-6288.

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