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Today's Laundry/Linen Manager Can't Rely on Experience Alone

Having discussed the need to create laundry industry standards last month (Industry Group Tackles Chore of Developing Best-Practice Standards), I want to focus now on education standards.
JCAHO — the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations — says the person in charge of the healthcare laundry should have appropriate training, education and experience. In an industry that has traditionally promoted long-term employees up the ladder, experience alone simply won’t cut it.
The healthcare market is undergoing a series of dramatic changes, for example, and the need for the laundry professional to quickly adapt his or her service to meet these changes has never been greater. A manager with the proper educational background will be in a better position to meet those needs than one with years of production experience.
When I started in the laundry business back in 1972, most managers simply had a high school diploma. I’ve seen the bar raised gradually over the years until most organizations now look for managers with a college degree. It really doesn’t seem to matter what type of degree it is, but finance or business is preferred. The degree shows the candidate’s general intelligence level, teachability and ability to stick to a defined program.
So, what kind of training and skills are essential to become an effective laundry manager? Here’s a short list of items that I consider to be essential.INFECTION CONTROL
Healthcare laundries deal with tons of soiled linen contaminated with various infectious organisms. To properly handle and process this linen, it’s essential that the manager have more than a passing knowledge of infection control. He or she needs to understand the laundry’s role in the infection control program, including how temperature and chemicals affect disinfection and how procedures in the laundry and during transport prevent recontamination.
A manager needs to understand how to maintain a functional separation of clean linen and soiled linen. Most importantly, the manager must stay abreast of changes in this area. The war on terrorism and potential use of biological agents places additional educational demands on managers.WASHROOM CHEMISTRY
No area has changed more over my 30-plus years in the industry than washroom chemistry, and the future holds promise for even more changes.
Many areas of the country are facing a crisis with their water and sewer systems. To raise the needed capital to improve aging systems, sewer and water rates are rising, often at a double-digit pace. Many laundries are turning to various water-reuse systems, which I believe will force changes in the way we wash.
The new-generation surgical linen—requiring different wash formulas than the old poly/cotton material—continues to grow in popularity. Microfilament mops are also gaining popularity across the country. They, too, require different wash formulas from the traditional mop.
How much should a laundry manager know about washroom chemistry? I believe managers need to know more than the chemical representatives who regularly call on them. I’ve come across some poorly trained chemical reps over the years.
I remember one sitting in my office telling me that I had to have a pH level over 25 in order to get my clothes clean. When I asked if he meant pH or concentration, he was sure it was pH. Our discussion ended quickly, because the pH scale only goes up to 14.
The two largest costs in a laundry are labor and linen, and efficient use of both is dependent on proper wash formulas. Knowing how various chemicals affect the cleaning process and linen life is essential.DIVERSITY
The laundry industry has traditionally been a gateway industry for recent immigrants. Managers must know how to effectively manage a diverse work force with many non-English-speaking employees.
Key issues include keeping traditional “enemies” from attacking each other and developing a culture that helps long-term employees embrace new employees and celebrate what they bring to the laundry. This might seem like a simple job but it requires lots of hard work and sensitivity on the part of managers and supervisors.
We often expect new arrivals to our country to immediately be assimilated into our culture. We expect them to learn English right away and to stop using their native language. We assume whenever they are talking in their native language, they’re talking about us.
History tells us that this is not the way immigration has taken place in the United States. Immigrants work hard to maintain their cultural identity and language while trying to chase the “American dream.” They bring with them their cultural norms and expect us to try to understand them. Failing to do so may result in us insulting the employee, their family or their culture without ever knowing it. Such blunders can lead to sudden and disastrous turnover.
In recent years, a number of programs have been developed to help managers to learn how to identify these characteristics and better manage a diverse work force. Education in this area should be mandatory for all laundry managers and supervisors.PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT
The efficient use of labor will make the difference between going out of business or generating a nice profit.
Good production management is more than standing out on the production floor and looking menacingly at the employees. It starts with a thorough understanding of every operation in the laundry. It’s not just “how we do things” but “why” we do them.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].