WINONA, Minn. – Winona ORC (Occupational Rehabilitation Center) has opened the doors to its new, $1.2 million, 9,600-square-foot healthcare laundry facility. The ceremonial ribbon was cut on Thursday.
The organization, which provides job opportunities for people with disabilities in the Southeast Minnesota area, sought to open the laundry facility to provide a more stable source of employment for disabled workers.
“One of the issues that we currently have with our manufacturing work, and have always had, is that it comes and goes,” says Todd Olson, director of operations. “Being in the employment industry...we were looking for types of jobs that would be long-term that we have some control of...and something that had a little bit of stability throughout the year, that you didn’t have really high peaks and valleys.”
The organization had always considered opening up a laundry facility, but concrete plans didn’t materialize until about five years ago. But because the organization had no experience in processing laundry, Olson explained that the group had to do its research.
“I don’t think any of us knew what a commercial laundry meant,” says Olson. “We went to a couple of commercial laundries within the region and we were just blown away at what a commercial laundry really was.”
The organization consulted with Shane Woodson from National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (NISH) in figuring out the construction, layout and logistics for the facility. After deliberating the venture’s financial aspects, the organization decided that opening a laundry facility would be beneficial.
“We said at that point...this is a wonderful long-term fix for us...it’s really good work because it provides a variety of skills sets [from] simple tasks like folding washcloths, all the way up to fairly complex tasks, like running machines,” says Olson.
To finance the project, Winona ORC reached out to local donors to raise funds. The organization was able to cut costs by rehabilitating one of their existing production facilities.
“Over the course of time, we’ve done a lot of [production jobs] in there, and we just felt like it was better served as a laundry than those other jobs,” says Olson.
Construction for the facility, which began in February, included the installation of new plumbing.
“We really took the specs that [NISH] used to design a facility for a [veterans] hospital. We have a barrier wall that divides our soiled side from the clean; we’ve got an incoming dock on the soiled side; we’ve got an outgoing dock on the clean side, so our linens never bypass each other,” says Olson. “We’ve got pass-through washers that are built into the wall…and then we pump 10 air exchanges per hour into the clean side through to the soiled side and out so we also have that air barrier.”
Currently, the facility employs the use of two 200-pound Braun pass-through washers and two 200-pound Milnor dryers, amongst others, with room for more to be installed.
“To date, with the equipment we have, [capacity is] about 1 million pounds a year, and as we grow and add washer capacity, the facility was constructed to be able to handle about 3 million pounds a year,” says Olson.
Though the organization has no clients signed currently, Olson explains that it is in the contract stages with three local healthcare institutions, and has been in talks with nine other local companies who have expressed interest in utilizing the laundry service.
In the meantime, Olson explains that they have been able to acquire “practice” linen from the Gundersen Health System.
“We were able to get a couple thousand pounds [of linen] from them, and so our people are now sorting and washing and we’re running all of our machines and getting a good four hours a day of actual practice on those linens,” says Olson.
Overall, the new facility will add about 60,000 hours of work annually for Winona ORC’s employment system, he says.
“It’s beyond exciting to see it all actually come together,” says Olson. “It’s really special to be able to take something that we’ve worked so long and hard on and then actually share it with the community…was pretty gratifying.”