ROANOKE, Va. — I have now been working in the laundry industry for more than 39 years and have seen many changes and developments over the past four decades. I have recently participated in three request-for-proposal (RFP) processes that spent an inordinate amount of time trying to define quality and proper fill rates.
The first time I ran across this, I figured it was due to the poor performance of the laundry in place. When the third proposal came across my desk, I began to see a disturbing trend. Each proposal was individually written, each had a different current supplier, and each customer was quite unhappy with the quality of the linen, the finish quality and the service it was getting from the supplier.
When I started in the business, a supplier’s word was their bond and their reputation was their most important asset. Contract negotiations were centered on the frequency of deliveries, the specifications of the provided linen items, and the cost of the desired service. Most contracts had escalation clauses built into them so the price automatically adjusted as the cost of providing services went up.
It was expected that the laundry would provide the agreed-upon textiles in the quantities needed. Today, RFPs contain language that defines what is an acceptable fill rate. It is automatically assumed that there will be orders that are not filled properly.
One of the proposals mentioned wanting at least 97% of an order delivered. Then it went on to define that the way this figure should be calculated is total pieces delivered divided by total pieces ordered. It was obvious the writer of the next RFP had learned that this system doesn’t work; they wanted 98% of all linen items delivered by line item. The customer had learned that the overall piece count allowed a supplier to deliver less than 90% of some items and still be in compliance with the contract.
So what has brought about all this attention to proper fill rate, purchase quality and finish quality? Obviously, some laundries are doing a bad job in these areas and the unhappy customers are trying to make sure that they do not get burned again. They are trying to build into the contract standards that, if not properly met, will allow them to cancel the contract.
More importantly, what does this say about the healthcare laundry industry? We have tried through improved training of our laundry management personnel to elevate the performance of our organizations. We have created survey tools and written standards that we have committed to follow. Our goal has been to process quality healthcare textiles. We now have accredited laundries but still the problems continue to grow.
The RFPs I described involved well-known providers, including national companies. Several of these situations involved painful contractual splits caused by the vendor being unwilling or unable to meet the needs of the healthcare facility. The split was made even more painful because of the vendor’s dogged insistence that the healthcare provider honor the full length of the contract, even after the customer had given the supplier a reasonable period to correct the shortfalls.
There simply comes a time when it is best for all involved to agree the relationship has not worked and to part on reasonable terms.
It is time for every laundry professional to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Are you happy with what you see? Is your reputation, fill rate and product quality what you want it to be? Does your service and quality match the verbal promises that you have made?