OPLs Have Far-Reaching Effects in Long-Term Care

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(Image licensed by Ingram Publishing)

Bill Kimmel |

NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With more than 20 years of experience working with hundreds of laundries in the long-term-care industry, we summarize our main goal with the answer to one question: “How can we help you provide the best possible care to your residents?”

While processing laundry is only one aspect of providing quality care to residents, it is one that can have a large impact on the facility as a whole. The ability to provide clean and sanitary bedding, clothing and other garments creates a more comfortable and safe environment for residents, and can also save a facility thousands of dollars annually. 

We at RJ Kool Co. see it as our job to educate long-term-care facilities about the steps they can take to improve both their quality of care and their bottom line.

REGULATORY COMPLIANCE

To fully understand the importance of efficiency in running an on-premises laundry (OPL) at a long-term-care facility, one must first understand the unique challenges that these facilities face. 

In terms of finances, long-term-care facilities face a more complex situation than other service providers. For other businesses, such as hotels, revenue comes primarily from the exchange of services for a pre-determined price. For long-term-care facilities, revenue comes from many different sources that depend on several factors, including the number of occupied beds, residents’ insurance policies, the type of care being provided, and government reimbursement policies. 

In addition to managing this complex financial situation, long-term-care facilities must comply with regulatory bodies, such as health departments, to continue to operate. Frequent inspections ensure that all regulations are being met and a high quality of care is being maintained in all facilities.

Every part of a long-term-care facility is subject to inspection and must meet certain guidelines; the laundry room is no exception. Guidelines vary by state, but most include the same basic regulations. Water must be heated to (at least) 160 F to ensure that bacteria is being killed as the garments are washed. 

Laundry rooms must also comply with certain design regulations to prevent the cross-contamination of clean and soiled linens. Though challenging, these regulations are necessary for ensuring resident health and safety.

With modern equipment and technologies, an OPL can run more smoothly and efficiently, allowing inspectors to see that guidelines are being met. New equipment can also help improve staff productivity, saving the facility time and money. 

Consider the differences between an OPL using dated equipment vs. one equipped with newer machines and technologies.  

THEN VS. NOW 

When we assist a long-term-care facility in upgrading its OPL by adding new equipment, it is not long before it begins to see a multitude of positive differences. 

In many instances, facilities are using older washer-extractors with as few as four cycle options, and manual timers. Machines like these are not designed to withstand the heavy usage required by a long-term-care facility, which often adds up to 18-20 hours per day. 

Additionally, these older machines may not be able to remove the maximum amount of water from the loads, increasing the gas and time needed to dry the linens. Older dryers, controlled by manual timers, may cause productivity and efficiency issues as well. 

Overestimating drying times means risking the possibility of overheating and scorching linens, ultimately shortening the lifespan of the initial investment in the linens.

We help customers solve these time- and money-eating issues by pinpointing solutions and improving best practices. Since upgrading its OPL last January and installing new machines, The Living Center, a non-profit long-term-care facility serving 100 residents in Marshall, Mo., has eliminated many of the issues that were related to using older equipment. 

Administrator Theresia Metz estimates that the facility has saved $70,000 since replacing its machines in January 2014. She says these savings are the result of several factors, including more user-friendly controls, automatic dispensing of chemicals, reduced utility usage and minimal par loss. 

“Now, employees simply select the cycles that have been pre-programmed and let the machines do the rest,” says Metz. “Very little error takes place.”

Metz adds that multiple language settings make selecting the proper wash and dry programs even easier for some employees. Meanwhile, she can view machine metrics, such as cycle time and machine usage, to confirm productivity and throughput have improved. 

Significant savings—approximately 54%—are due to increased productivity. Additionally, with more efficient equipment and cycles, The Living Center has lowered utility bills by nearly $13,600 compared to 2013, according to Metz. 

CLEAN AND GREEN

Maintaining adequate par levels is an important measure in keeping costs low. Before replacing equipment, The Living Center’s par loss was at 50%, meaning that for every piece of linen put back on the shelf, one had to be thrown out and replaced because of improper cleaning and stain removal. 

Today, after upgrading their equipment, 97% of linens go back on the shelf after processing. 

“Our linens have improved in appearance. They’re softer and smell fresher,” says Metz. 

In an industry that serves patients who are often in poor health and more susceptible to illness, properly sanitized and disinfected linens are crucial. If linens are not properly cleaned to meet regulations, patients are put at greater risk to catch potentially life-threatening infections. 

The peace of mind that comes with providing superior care and accommodations to residents may be priceless; however, the savings that result from not having to treat preventable infections are quantifiable—thousands of dollars per case. 

These savings and benefits are far-reaching for The Living Center’s OPL, as it also processes linens for a 66-bed hospital, a cancer center, a medical office building and three medical clinics. 

As this facility has demonstrated, a more efficient OPL can have significant effects on every aspect of the operation. Even with unique financial situations and health regulations that other industries do not face, there are tools available to help ease these challenges, all while improving the quality of life for residents.      

About the author

Bill Kimmel

RJ Kool Co.

President

Bill Kimmel is president of RJ Kool, a UniMac distributor with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. He can be reached at bkimmel@rjkool.com or 800-345-4551, ext. 102.

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