Staying ‘On Par’ Presents Ongoing Challenge (Conclusion)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“What aspects of inventorying and securing textiles pose the biggest challenge, and why? In what ways can an insufficient inventory impact the rest of my operation?”

Equipment Manufacturing: Gary Ostrum, G.A. Braun, Syracuse, N.Y.:

As it has been more than two decades since I was responsible for the securing and inventorying of textiles for a laundry facility, I will leave this portion of the question to my fellow panelists with more recent experience.

As far as negatively impacting one’s operation, I look at insufficient inventory as one of the major reasons, if not the No. 1 reason, for cost overages within an operation. This holds true for commercial plants and OPLs. Also, the negative impact on one’s operation is far-reaching, from direct issues related to this to a host of indirect issues.

All too often, the linen budget gets the ax and replacements are cut with little or no thought to the downstream effect.

The most obvious impact is on labor and operating hours. Nothing affects that coveted pounds-per-employee-hour figure more than having equipment operators run out of work. In addition, this hole in production can now only be filled by additional labor and operating hours.

Those who rent linens get paid for every piece or pound of linen they send out, so lack of inventory is seldom seen in such operations. However, it is almost an accepted practice within the hotel OPL side of things. I walk into a host of such operations operating two or more shifts simply because as soon as any linen is soiled, it needs to be immediately washed and ready for the next room that needs it.

The additional cost is not only felt within the laundry, but it transitions over to housekeeping, where staff must stay on longer to make upthe rooms—not to mention the indirect cost to the property, as new guests checking in must wait for the room to be made up.

The negative impact continues regarding energy costs. Insufficient inventory usually means washers/tunnels/dryers will be underloaded. Once underloaded, all the equipment noted will now operate at a higher cost per pound processed, whether the increase comes from gas, water, electricity or air.

There are new technologies out there that allow equipment to make adjustments for these underloaded conditions. But now one is increasing the cost of the equipment purchased to make upfor lack of inventory, and we are back to additional hours again.

Having an insufficient inventory does not reduce the cost of linen replacement—it increases it.

First, having an insufficient inventory creates a panic type of linen purchase which brings in a feast/famine environment. As proper inventory levels are not really well-known, the operation, now reacting to a crisis, just dumps linen into the system. Now there is too much linen, leading to excessive, increased loss due to theft as linen is sitting around unprotected on shelves, etc.

Second, while I have yet to see a scientific study on this, our industry seems to concur that when textiles get to “rest” before being used, they last longer. So putting a textile into use as soon as it is dry seems to shorten the life cycle of that product.

Looking at this issue positively, let’s work to take accurate inventories (make them perpetual, if possible), set upour linen purchases on the inventory results, and prevent having insufficient inventories that negatively affect our operations.

Textiles: Hal Herweck, Phoenix Textile Corp., O’Fallon, Mo.: 

As a stocking distributor, we understand the need to maintain inventory levels to service our customers.

All laundries are challenged with forecasting demand for individual products and having those products on hand to fulfill that demand. This is especially true for the challenging environment of healthcare linens.

Forecasting demand is equal parts art and science. As with many disciplines, an understanding of the art portion is usually acquired over many years of trial and error. Knowing the variables unique to your institution and understanding the factors that drive demand within your system is a skill learned over time.

A less subjective tool is the application of statistical equations to determine appropriate inventory levels and reorder points. Although there are numerous statistical models and software tools used to determine appropriate levels, they all start with an accurate on-hand inventory level and a determination of the amount of that product actually in circulation.

Through the use of basic principles of standard deviation of demand and service level factors, one can determine appropriate levels of inventory to have in any system “by the book.”

Taking the next stepto determine how much of that inventory is actually in circulation requires that we put the book aside and make our way to the floors, storerooms and patient rooms where caregivers are utilizing our products.

Through daily routine, convenience and/or unwritten procedure, caregivers and other staff will hoard linen. In many cases, driven by an apprehension of running out of linen, staff will find hiding places outside of the circulating inventory cycle.

Identification of these hidden stores and an all-out effort to educate staff on the impact of this practice is a critical stepin maintaining appropriate inventory levels. Since competing interests can come into play, a team approach is recommended when addressing this issue.

Soliciting the assistance of a trusted vendor partner to conduct a linen survey at the floor level for the purpose of producing a formal linen utilization study can both formalize the process and at the same time result in a document that includes independent best practice recommendations.

Regardless of who performs the survey, being seen on the floors conducting a linen utilization survey will demonstrate professional oversight of this valuable facility resource.

Chemicals Supply: Carrie Armstrong, Ecolab, Eagan, Minn.:

I find the first challenge would be to have an effective linen management program that controls costs while maintaining enough linen available for daily operation. Part of the program involves establishing a par level.

I suggest six as an ideal par level: one needed to fully stock a guest or patient room, one par on the shelf to “rest,” one being washed, one in transit if outsourcing, one in stock for emergencies and one in stock for linen replacement due to wear, damage or theft. For this recommendation for a six par, which I see as being ideal, the challenge will be establishing a budget to have this available.

With a limited par level, controlling the inventory level of the textiles requires standard policies and procedures for laundering, transporting, stocking, storing and replacement. A physical inventory is required to know what items are available and in storage. If the inventory is not adequate for daily operation, shortages will reduce the productivity of the employees. Customer satisfaction scores may decrease due to patient/guests waiting for cleaned rooms. If outsourcing laundry service, a missed delivery due to a snow or ice storm will result in being short of required textiles.

Insufficient inventory will negatively impact employees. They will become frustrated at not having available textiles, and thus they may stash and hoard linen. Employee job satisfaction may decrease with the lack of adequate supplies to conduct their jobs efficiently. Linen life will be decreased due to over-processing the inventory, resulting in additional shortages. Inadequate replacement of worn or damaged textiles will give a displeasing look. Customer satisfaction scores will suffer. The laundry, either on-premises or off-site, will be stressed to deliver the results and textiles required.

To conclude, insufficient inventory impacts the entire operation in some way, which hinders controlling overall costs.

Long-Term Care Laundry: Brian Barfoot, Aberdeen Village/Aramark, Olathe, Kan.:

Specific to clean-linen distribution/soiled-linen removal, the biggest challenges to textile inventory is the daily effective distribution and pickupof all linens along with overall utilization.

This requires consistent daily management of the overall laundry operation. The key for secure inventory of textiles is having a central supply storage that is managed with secure access, as well as secured access to all linen distribution points/locations. Effective daily quality controls must also be managed.

Basic controls would be:

  1. Making linen staff accountable for their production of distribution and pickup.

  2. Supervision of staff members who inspect the supply room daily, and random, unannounced inspections of delivery carts, linen supply carts and linen supply distribution points/locations.

  3. Scheduled, unannounced observations of organizational staff and customer usage.

  4. Consistent communication and detailed reporting to and with organizational leadershipvia a linen committee.

Ultimately, insufficient inventory negatively impacts the customer. During busy usage periods, the frontline staff members providing the linen item to the patient or resident end uptaking precious extra time to find the linen they need.

Communication from the customer to staff can be challenging, and subsequently, these service failures reduce overall laundry production. Time is then spent on service recovery. As well as coaching and re-training, corrective action comes with any laundry staff responsibility.

Hotel/Motel/Resort Laundry: James Brewster, The Resort at Glade Springs, Daniels, W.Va.: 

Par levels are one of the most important aspects of any laundry operation. Regular inventories are necessary to make sure you have the proper par levels, assuming you have the budget to bring levels upto where they need to be. This ensures that you maximize linen life, and it also exposes your linen distribution points. You can see where “hoarding” is occurring and what adjustments are necessary to correct this.

If you have lower-than-adequate par levels, you will constantly run into the “just in time” category, always processing and sending the linens out to the end-user. This does not allow the linens to relax and will drastically shorten their life, causing the linen cost to rise faster than normal. If you maintain proper levels and conduct inventories, you will see a smoother operation.


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