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Need to Lower Costs? Try Increasing Linen Life

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(Photo: Image licensed by Ingram Publishing; David Castillo Dominici, photographer)

Eric Frederick |

ROANOKE, Va. — The effects of sequestration were beginning to affect hospitals’ bottom line in June. Many facilities are actively looking for non-salary expenses that can be lowered. I would like to suggest the following ideas to increase linen life, thereby reducing linen replacement costs:

Review each linen item with the end-users to make sure that it is the proper linen item for the intended use.

If a bath blanket is being used as a lift sheet, excessive tears in the item will develop. Are two patient gowns being used for each ambulatory patient to provide proper coverage?

Review your wash formulas to make sure you are obtaining proper levels of cleanliness, without excessively washing the linen.

Mechanical action and chemical action cause most fabric degradation. Each classification should be washed in such a manner to keep rewash below 3% of total volume produced. Some laundries sort all heavily soiled linen together and give it a special wash. High levels of alkalinity attack the cotton fiber and the finish on reusable barrier linen, as well as the soil. One key to longer linen life is to reduce the alkaline concentration of the wash formula. Using enzyme detergents instead of traditional detergents can be an effective alternative.

Review procedures for determining the proper size of each wash load.

Overloading will cause poor wash quality and excessive stains. I have seen laundries with excellent written procedures for weighing loads, but the normal daily practice did not resemble the written practice.

Carefully review all damaged linen to see if a pattern of abuse or product failure is evident.

Once a trend is discovered, corrective action can be taken to adjust product quality, construction and production technique, or improve in-service education with areas of use.

Check dryers to make sure they are operating correctly.

Excessive heat can damage linen and cause it to have a harsh hand. Door seals and interior air deflection blades should be checked to make sure everything is working properly. Poor seals that allow room air to enter the dryer without going through the burner area can cause artificially low outlet temperature readings. These readings will cause the linen to be subjected to higher-than-programmed temperatures.

Do not operate thermal fluid ironers at temperatures above 375 F.

To iron at temperatures above this level will result in the loss of size stability in polyester fibers. Once heat-set, polyester fiber is no longer size-stable, so the laundry will experience higher-than-normal shrinkage. I have seen contour sheets that started out at 88 inches in length shrink to 76 inches. The temptation is to iron at higher temperatures to increase productivity, but without realizing the potential shrinkage problem.

Marking linen with the name of the company or facility is no longer popular.

Buying groups are emphasizing lower-cost alternatives to name woven or marked linen. I still believe there are benefits to be had from boldly placing the name of the facility or company on the linen, either by having the name woven into the fabric or continuously applied at the mill. Small stamps placed in the corner of a sheet do little to increase the linen’s life.

Properly marking linen helps reduce loss in these ways:

  1. It permanently, and obviously, indicates the owner of the linen and makes it easier to retrieve your linen from other facilities in your area when it leaves your facility during transfers or on ambulances. Many hospitals are reluctant to put linen on their beds from their competitors in their market area.

  2. It makes the linen less attractive to any person who might want to steal it and sell it.

  3. It clearly identifies the linen as property of the facility and discourages honest people from taking it home. This is important in this day of disposable items that patients are encouraged to take home.

  4. It provides undeniable evidence as to ownership, thereby making prosecution of thieves easier.

  5. Name woven linen is abused less than non-name woven linen.

Reduce linen loss from the emergency room by stocking that area with other facilities’ linen, or downgraded linen that has been dyed and specially marked for that purpose.

 

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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