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Linen Managers Strive For Quality, Controlling Costs

Eric Frederick |

Linen managers are becoming increasingly important in this struggling economy. Many healthcare providers are looking for ways to reduce costs without affecting the quality of patient care. Proper linen utilization is becoming a key area of concern. Therefore, it’s time again to review the linen manager’s important role in an organization.
Organizations that outsourced their laundry service used to fill the new linen management position with the former laundry manager. This manager brought knowledge of textiles, distribution methods and linen processing to the position, an essential background that many of today’s linen managers lack.
The linen manager’s primary focus is to act as interface between the facility and the outside contractor. This person is responsible for coordinating deliveries and product quality with the outside vendor. They are also responsible for working with the linen end-users to make sure that their needs and concerns are properly met.
Linen managers have recently been asked to use computerized programs to track linen utilization by area. This tracking helps hold the end-users responsible for the cost of the linen they are using. The potential demand for “free” linen (linen charged to someone else) is unlimited.
This new role is also developing into one of chairing or assisting a linen management committee that is empowered to lower linen utilization. Our organizations use benchmarks to determine best practices, so linen utilization differences between organizations need to be explained. Why does one healthcare facility utilize 14 pounds per adjusted patient day when another is using 17 pounds? Can the 17-pound amount be reduced? Is the 14-pound figure too low?
To answer these questions, an organization needs a properly trained linen manager. This person needs to understand what contributes to those pounds per adjusted patient day. Does the facility use reusable underpads, isolation gowns or surgical linen? Are any of those items disposable? Would it be less expensive, and provide better patient care, for the facility to use more reusable linen? Simple pounds-per-adjusted-patient-day figures don’t tell the entire story.
Is the linen in use at the facility of the same quality promised by the laundry? Many linens are made overseas, and the quality control in those factories doesn’t always live up to U.S. standards.
Many thermal blankets and spreads made in Pakistan have been over-stretched on the looms, causing excessive shrinkage once they are washed. Many terry products from Pakistan and India have used inferior grades of cotton this past year, resulting in off-colored products. These products should not be accepted by the end-user or the laundry. Unfortunately, according to my industry sources, many of these products are in use without complaint from the purchasers.
A good linen manager can save a facility up to 10 times their salary annually. They can work with the end-users to improve their linen utilization and make sure the proper items are available for patient care. They can make sure that the laundry consistently delivers an acceptable product.
And, finally, they can be the conduit between the end-users and the laundry in finding acceptable linen solutions to meet the needs of an ever-changing healthcare environment.
 

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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