CHICAGO — Taking inventory is often cause for headaches at any laundry facility, and a recent webinar on linen inventorying addressed how to make the process work for each individual system.
Barbara Williams has more than 30 years of experience in the textile industry. As a consultant with Standard Textile Co., she frequently speaks about linen process improvements, linen management, and cost-reduction programs for healthcare operations.
During the webinar sponsored by the Association for Linen Management, Williams stressed the many rewards of taking a regular inventory and touched on a few challenges a laundry facility faces during the process.
Among the rewards, Williams says, are balancing supply with demand and assuring that an adequate supply is circulating. Too few linens causes shortages, which can lead to hoarding and a lack of confidence in the system. “Too much inventory can cause misuse and over-utilization of products,” she says.
An inventory also can help a laundry, whether it be on the premises or off site, determine effective allocation of linens, as well as replacement rates.
Determining those rates can lead to a planned purchasing program, thus helping to eliminate panic buying and rush orders. Administrative reporting is another advantage, she says, and allows a facility to have information on hand in the case of an insurance claim after a flood or fire. Budgeting is high priority during these economic times, and taking an accurate inventory can help determine future needs.
Other inventorying goals are ascertaining a facility’s loss rates, determining if a facility has a high rate of “mysterious disappearances” of linens, recirculating so-called “dead” inventory, and identifying locations that may be hoarding linens. As a result, facilities have the opportunity to implement security programs to reduce loss and are able to put some quantities of inventory back into circulation or reallocate supplies.
“As many of you know,” Williams says, “you end up with a lot more in circulating inventory right after a count is taken.”
She recommends taking a proactive approach to linen inventory to identify potential roadblocks or problems and take a closer look at shortages or overages.
Challenges Facing an Inventory
In today’s market, most facilities are being asked to do more with less, which can result in fewer staff resources available to help with an inventory. This can also result in a problem with time commitments and cooperation from a staff that already sees itself as overburdened.
Another challenge can be the large networks that many healthcare facilities are part of these days. “It takes a lot more cooperation and communication,” Williams says, “but many large networks are doing inventory successfully.”
Linen supplies are different from a product kept on a shelf; constant movement of the linens is a cause for concern when contemplating taking an inventory. A healthcare facility, for instance, cannot simply stop the movement of linen, so timing of an inventory is crucial. The number of locations where linen is stored and used, as well as the number of stock-keeping units in a healthcare facility, challenges an inventory manager.
Inventory accuracy often hinges on a cut-off point and a clear delineation between what is to be counted and what is not counted.
A commitment by management, as well as nursing management in a healthcare facility, is essential to an accurate inventory. If the results show a high return on the investment, this can help persuade management to cooperate. Determining what the actual ROI is important as well.
“Are you willing to act on the results of your inventory?” Williams asked participants. “If you aren’t willing to act, then there may be no return on investment. Acting on the results is crucial to making an inventory worthwhile.”
When to Take Inventory
“Today, most large laundries have gone to an annual inventory,” Williams says. “We recommend doing the inventory at the same time of the year so there is a consistency of inventory.”
Williams also recommends semi-annual inventories, more for on-premise laundries than large, shared or pooled laundries. Smaller operations, such as hospitality facilities, can do a quarterly or monthly inventory.
Another possibility is a cycle count. Williams says this works well if a facility doesn’t require a complete inventory, if the manpower is not available, or if there isn’t the level of cooperation required for a complete inventory. She suggests taking one or two of the highest use items and counting those. Then, the following month, select another two items and count those.
When the webinar participants were polled anonymously, 64% indicated they inventory once a year and 9% inventory on a semi-annual basis. Williams was slightly disappointed to hear the remaining 27% don’t take a linen inventory at all.
Also factoring into inventorying is choosing the best day and best time of day during which to act.
Base this on several elements, Williams says: staff availability, low-activity time, nursing practices, shift changes and linen delivery schedules. The important thing, she says, is to be consistent; take inventory at the same point each year, on the same day and at the same time of day.
Tomorrow: Your Inventory Involves What?