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.
Your Inventory Involves What?
The major items that most healthcare laundry facilities count during an inventory are adult patient linen, nursery/pediatric linen, surgical linen, surgical apparel, other staff apparel, pillows, mops and napery. Each facility will need to determine what is important to count, and it isn’t necessary to count everything at the same time. For instance, Williams says, some facilities will count the adult patient linens and the nursery linens, then tally the surgical linen and apparel at a different time.
Where to Conduct an Inventory
Determining where linen is kept is a necessary step before beginning an inventory. Healthcare facilities will need to count linens in patient rooms as well as in ancillary departments. This involves linens on the beds, on the patients and staff, exchange carts, utility carts, in bathrooms, drawers, closets, exam room, cabinets, stretchers, and even on chairs and windowsills.
Staff may again be an issue when determining where linens are stored. In some cases, Williams says, facilities will do what is called a bed-standard method of counting. “Staff members know the actual standard of what is put on a bed, (and) they then take that times the number of beds in a unit,” she says. “And they still take a quick walk-through to see what extras are in the rooms.”
A linen room count and the laundry count need to be conducted as accurately and efficiently as possible. The laundry will be the largest, and it is the most important to get right, Williams says.
Remember to include off-site locations such as clinics. And while many facilities no longer utilize a storeroom, include that location—if applicable—in an inventory.
Who Conducts an Inventory
Where many healthcare facilities ask their nursing staff, including personal care aides, to conduct linen inventories, only 10% of the webinar participants indicated they utilize this population. The majority of participants—40%—use linen distribution or environmental services staff. The more people involved, the better, according to Williams. She says many inventories are conducted by a combination of nursing staff and environmental services staff.
Another possibility is to use laundry personnel, which 30% of webinar participants acknowledged they do. This demographic will be crucial in counting linens in the laundry areas as well as picking up soiled linens and marking them as counted or uncounted.
The use of temporary personnel to help with inventorying is another possibility, but the training required could deter this practice.
The Process of Inventorying
Williams suggests that a 30-day plan be put into place before an inventory. Preparations include identifying the areas and products to count, identifying the facility and areas within a facility that will be involved, and identifying the staff responsible for the counting and recording of linens.
Lists, instructions, forms, signs and schedules are imperative when communicating with staff about an upcoming inventory and while an inventory is being conducted. Education, such as in-service meetings and training, will be another key to success.
Before an inventory begins, the staff involved will need to communicate the date and time of the project, present the procedures to any involved personnel, and communicate with off-site laundries and with customers or patients. A list of names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses is important to communication before, during and after an inventory.
Inventory Day Arrives
Williams provided a list of inventory day events, including sending final communications to all units involved. Collect and pick up all soiled linens in bulk carts and mark as “uncounted,” and verify that these steps have been completed. Close laundry chutes during the inventory.
When the count begins on each unit, teams of two—one to count and the second to record the results—are recommended.
It would be a good idea, Williams says, to establish an “Inventory Central,” or a place, person, or phone extension that those involved in the task can contact for questions and concerns.
When an inventory is complete, either collect the forms or have them returned to Inventory Central. At that time, it would be a good idea to review the forms to confirm numbers and that any comments can be understood. Tabulate results.
Remove signs, and be sure to communicate the cut-off point with all involved. Lastly, Williams recommends an enthusiastic show of appreciation to all those who helped with the inventory.
After the Inventory
When an inventory has been successfully completed, it is time to generate statistics and results; generate the total inventory and the inventory dollar value; calculate replacement or depletion rates; and calculate mysterious disappearance.
Share the results with management, with the nursing staff and with other staff members. And most importantly, Williams says, take action on the results.
“Assess your inventory needs by comparing your inventory with your demand,” she says, “and adjust linen orders accordingly. Retrieve any ‘dead’ or hoarded inventory and review security measures.
“Today, we’re in a budget crunch, and we really need to protect our linen assets.”