LAKEWOOD, Colo. — While laundry might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the quality of care at a healthcare facility, it does play an important role.
Every year, hospitals and other healthcare facilities produce more than 5 billion pounds of soiled linens. Laundry managers are consistently updating protocols and procedures to ensure linens are thoroughly cleaned and free of bacteria and other viruses. Studies have shown that a textile can be considered a fomite—an object capable of carrying an organism and serving as a reservoir that can be involved in bacterial transmission. Various types of bacteria can survive up to 90 days on linens, according to published reports.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), there are multiple methods to hygienically clean textiles. Each method, however, requires an equipment mix designed to incorporate the various processes.
In addition, with a large volume of laundry being processed each year, it’s also important for healthcare organizations to ensure they are being as efficient as possible to keep operation costs low.
With proper laundry equipment and processing protocols, the risk of textiles posing as a source of infection to patients and employees can be greatly minimized, as well as reduce utility costs.
IN HOT WATER
Experts say that in order to kill bacteria and other viruses on linen, laundry should be washed with detergent and bleach for 25 minutes in water that is heated to 160 F. Studies have shown that bacteria, viruses and even bed bugs cannot survive this water temperature or chemical mix.
If your facility has chosen to use this method, it must be able to test water to make sure it’s reaching the 160-degree requirement in case the operation is ever audited. To meet this requirement, the laundry equipment will require an advanced control.
Advanced controls are able to show the exact water temperature inside the washing machine to help employees ensure the laundry is being washed at the correct temperature. These controls also allow users to program fill, wash and rinse water temperatures. Additionally, the controls – either networked or wireless – can send data to a computer, which allows managers to print reports to ensure protocols are being properly followed in the wash. This option also enables supervisors to provide documentation should the facility ever need to prove that its washing procedures meet federal requirements.
If a facility is concerned about water usage, some advanced controls allow users to select from as many as 30 different water levels. Programs such as these will help contribute to a reduction in water costs because employees can select the appropriate water level based on load capacity. It’s reported that spray-rinse machines can reduce water usage up to 11% when compared to traditional bath-style rinse models.
HIGH EXTRACTION SPEED
Regardless of which option is chosen to complete wash cycles, it’s equally critical to make sure machines have high G-force extraction speeds.
This extraction helps maximize water removal from linens in the spin cycle. The higher the G-force, the more water removed from linens. Newer machines offer top speeds of 400 G-force, the highest in the industry. When maximum water is removed in the wash, dry times are greatly reduced, further reducing utility costs.
THE DRYING PROCESS
Since textiles are already put through a rigorous washing process, it’s important to use tumble dryer programs that will help linens last longer and avoid expensive replacement costs. The dryer should work as a system with the washer-extractor, using the same control platform to ensure ease of use and optimal efficiency. This will allow staff to increase throughput, and contribute to lower operating expenses.
When selecting a dryer, make sure the manufacturer has achieved the perfect balance between drying temperature, airflow pattern and usable cylinder space for maximum energy efficiency.
Some equipment on the market offers over-dry prevention technology, which automatically turns a dryer off once the linens inside have reached the optimal dryness level. Over-drying wastes gas and can damage linens and garments, causing replacement costs to rise each year.
It’s estimated that 79% of on-premise laundries over-dry linens by more than eight minutes per cycle when using a 75-pound tumble dryer. By eliminating that extra time per cycle, laundries can save nearly $1,000 in gas costs a year and nearly $5,000 in labor expenses. Additionally, textiles experience 31% less fiber loss when over-dry prevention technology is used, according to reports.
MORE ON ADVANCED CONTROLS
Advanced control platforms offer many benefits to maximize efficiency and productivity in the laundry room. Over the past five years, laundry control platforms have advanced. Previously, there were only a few options to choose from when picking laundry cycles. Today’s healthcare facilities have more programming options available. While some facilities may outsource laundry service, others have taken their laundry operations back in-house so they can have full control, reduce costs and increase quality.
Advanced controls help laundry managers identify expenses within their operations and pinpoint specific areas where they can increase efficiency and reduce costs associated with labor, linen replacement, utilities and maintenance. With nearly 50% of costs associated with labor, up to 25% for linen replacement and roughly 13% on utilities, it benefits managers to be able to easily identify inefficiencies or potential problems and correct them fast.
Features such as delayed start allow employees to load washing machines before the end of their shift and have the first load completed by the beginning of the next day. Laundries can complete one extra load per day, allowing for savings in labor costs.
The real-time clock feature lets managers see what time each cycle was started and stopped, and the idle-time feature monitors the length of time in between the starting and stopping of cycles. Maintenance reminders are ideal for the engineering staff, as reminders are programmed to alert employees for timely servicing.
REDUCE RISK, LOWER UTILITIES
It would be beneficial for healthcare facilities to take a hard look at their on-premise laundry operation and work with their suppliers and product manufacturers to pinpoint areas where they can increase efficiency and reduce costs, and, most importantly, achieve the best results for their patients.