CHICAGO — Johanna Ames, president of Ames Linen Service, Cortland, N.Y., says it is important for her company’s healthcare customers that it is certified by a third party.
“They live in a data-driven, ‘validated’ world, and our accreditation reassures them that we are following best management practices and driving outcomes that serve them and their patients well,” she shares. “It is expected by our customers. Period.”
That’s why Ames Linen Service pursued and achieved Hygienically Clean Healthcare Certification through TRSA, the association for linen, uniform and facility services.
Cassandra Geske, director of marketing for Angelica, based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., says the company pursued certification because it strives to provide the best service and quality to customers.
“As such, we wanted to achieve the highest level of certification in the healthcare laundry industry,” she says. “Even more so, we didn’t just want to do our largest plants or even the ones with the most capacity—we wanted to do it for all of them. As a national company, servicing national customers, we wanted to make sure that they always had a TRSA-certified plant servicing their hospitals.”
Gregory Gicewicz, president of Sterile Surgical Systems in Tumwater, Wash., says his company pursued HLAC (Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council) accreditation in 2011 in order to distinguish itself “by committing to the ‘Gold Standard’ of healthcare laundry standards.”
“We believe that because HLAC promotes the most rigorous accreditation standards, it sends a powerful message to our healthcare customers that we are committed to patient safety,” he shares. “Going through this process also allowed us to implement mechanisms to ensure continual improvement in our services to healthcare facilities.”
All three companies, whether they have achieved certification or accreditation, make a point of sharing the value of their designations with customers and potential customers. Ames, Geske and Gicewicz all say it’s necessary in the healthcare environment to have and share certification/accreditation.
Gicewicz says that HLAC accreditation is critical to his company’s healthcare customers. Most importantly, it confirms that the laundry is committed to the most rigorous healthcare laundry standards benefitting patient safety. He adds that healthcare customers are similarly inspected by various accrediting bodies and government agencies.
“Often sections of these inspections focus on the laundry provider,” he says. “If the hospital’s laundry provider is HLAC-accredited, it gives the hospital peace of mind to know that they can confidently have the inspector check those boxes confirming that the laundry meets and/or exceeds the most rigid requirements for healthcare laundry.”
According to Gicewicz, once his company committed to achieving accreditation, the preparation process took about nine months before Sterile Surgical Systems was ready for inspection.
“It would take up hundreds of pages describing our preparation process,” he says.
Healthcare professionals are already becoming increasingly aware of accreditation, Gicewicz shares. In general, they understand the value to their facility and to their patients.
“As the threat to patient safety of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) becomes better understood, it follows that ensuring hygienically clean healthcare textiles must be a critical part of any hospital’s infection prevention strategy,” he points out. “We stress to our hospital customers that HLAC accreditation can help prevent HAIs. Hospital personnel may not understand healthcare laundry but they all understand the disastrous impact of HAIs.”
Gicewicz says Sterile Surgical Systems makes it a point to share its accreditation designation with all current and potential healthcare customers.
“We feature this prominently in our marketing materials, including our company website, our marketing brochures, our business cards and our e-mail signatures,” he shares.
Gicewicz says that his company doesn’t actively promote accreditation to the public; however, he shares that Sterile Surgical Systems participates in many community outreach activities where it actively promotes its accreditation.
“For example, we frequently host student groups, military groups, various association meetings and community gatherings,” he shares. “During these events, we make it a point to promote our HLAC accreditation and explain why this is so important.
“Again, tying accreditation to healthcare textiles often draws confused stares. Linking our accreditation to reduced healthcare-associated infections translates its importance into terms every-one understands.”
Ames says her company has been accredited by a third party for several years.
“When we first sought accreditation, we felt good because we historically operated in a world driven by standard operating procedures and employee training,” she says. “As a result of our accreditation, we did enhance our programs with six-month self-inspection protocol, annual emergency drills and more frequent safety and quality trainings outside of those required by regulatory bodies.”
According to Ames, the company talks to its customers about the certification regularly. She says customers value that the company’s current accreditation is outcomes-based and continual over the life of the accreditation cycle.
For potential customers, Ames points out that facts about the company’s accreditation are available on its website.
“In addition, we wrote some short pieces that are included in our proposals for new partnerships,” she adds.
Geske says that having certification tells Angelica’s customers that it is doing everything it can to provide the cleanest and safest linen in the industry.
“That means a lot to them,” she says. “We aren’t cutting corners or trying to simply meet the industry standard; we are striving to exceed the standard and provide them with the best, which is what matters most to them at the end of the day.”
Tony Long, vice president of risk management for Angelica, says the company started on the path to certification by reviewing and understanding the standards.
“We were able to accomplish this with internal resources and TRSA’s knowledgeable inspector,” says Long.
From there, Long says Angelica conducted internal audits and training at each plant, utilizing the TRSA standards as its guide and audit checklist.
“After successfully passing three consecutive rounds of monthly biological testing of clean healthcare textiles, we received the third-party inspection,” shares Long.
Geske adds that the certification is highly important to infection prevention teams at hospitals that have HAIs at the top of their priority list.
“Every other quarter, we go through the testing method USP62, which targets the top seven HAIs in the industry, and we have never failed one,” she shares. “Our customers appreciate that we are doing everything we can to provide the best linen for their hospitals, which results in a better overall patient experience.
“If we are being audited by an objective third party that holds us to strict standards for clean linen, then the hospitals are able to take this certification into consideration as they choose their linen service provider.”
According to Geske, Angelica has a partnership with TRSA, which has a marketing committee that creates collateral for use by laundry operators. The company shares this collateral with its customers, vendors and community so that those involved are well-versed in the type of value it is providing.
“In addition, we have our own marketing campaigns, proposal speaking points and linen awareness days that help educate our customers about the value that TRSA’s certification brings to their hospitals,” she says. “We want to make them aware that we are striving to provide above-industry-standard cleanliness because this makes us a better partner.”
Besides promoting certifications within its collateral material, Geske says the company does so in other ways, such as with signage at plants and on the sides of its trucks.
“We are proud of the accomplishments we have, and, as such, we want to promote this through those avenues that are public and/or customer-facing,” she says. “It’s important to make sure that our customers know the efforts (and the investment) we are putting in to provide them with the cleanest possible linen.”
What else can a laundry do to promote and share the value of its achieved designation?
“Having an active role within TRSA will significantly help when it comes to promoting the certification,” shares Geske. “Those involved with this association have access to the materials that are created collaboratively by vendors and operators, achieving all perspectives.”
She adds that it’s important for a laundry’s marketing department to have relationships with the safety, risk management and operations teams so that everyone can understand the ins and outs of the process.
“The plant has worked hard to achieve this level of certification, so being conscious of the holistic scope of how they were able to do that is a crucial step,” Geske points out. “Marketing collateral cannot be created in a bubble; you have to be able speak the language of those digesting the content. Working alongside these teams will help in creating, and promoting, this certification.”
Ames says that details are important and will make the difference on the path to accreditation.
“It is important that you ‘do what you say you do’ every day, that your adherence to proper policies and procedures and best practices is continual, and that you do not take your eye off the ball,” she says. “The process of accreditation should make you a better operator if you are disciplined in your approach to achieving it.”
Gicewicz points out that earning accreditation shows that a laundry takes patient safety seriously, and that the company has committed the resources necessary to achieve the distinction.
“Then I would tell them to be proud of their accreditation and to promote it to their future and potential healthcare customers,” he says. “Send out an announcement. Promote it on your trucks. Put it on everyone’s business cards. Write about it on your company website. Mention it in your interactions with all current and future customers.”