DOTHAN, Ala. — As hospitals concentrate on meeting growing demands for healthcare while scaling down to address economic pressures, many are outsourcing their laundry operations (approximately 62%, according to the 2006 book Low-Wage America: How Employers are Reshaping Opportunity in the Workplace) to make room for additional critical medical services.
Laundry service providers must adapt to handle the increased volume, while also keeping in mind environmental considerations.
Striking a balance between delivering on customer expectations and identifying ways to conserve resources, as well as costs, can be a daunting challenge, but officials with Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center (WRC) believe it’s on the right track and, in the process, is reaffirming the value — beyond laundry services — that it has brought to the local community for nearly five decades.INSIDE WIREGRASS
WRC, founded in 1958, is a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with disabilities by paying them for work performed in an “earn while you learn” training approach.
“Once an individual enters our training program, he or she is trained according to industry standards, to work productively and to meet workplace expectations,” says Mike Atwell, director of business services at WRC. “The income from the work done, products produced and services provided [is] then used to pay overhead, expenses, and those in training for their work as they learn.”
In 2007, WRC Laundry & Linen Services made the decision to relocate from an outdated ancillary building on campus. One of its main customers, Flowers Hospital, had outgrown its laundry facility and needed more resources to address its changing needs.
In June 2009, WRC began operations from a new 90,000-square-foot work services center, with 18,000 square feet dedicated to commercial laundry services.
The organization serves four hospitals and 10 medical centers in southern Alabama. It also has a contract with Albany Marine Corps Logistical Base for weekly processing of customer-owned coveralls. WRC processes more than 3.5 million pounds of laundry annually.ENERGY-EFFICIENT APPROACH
WRC worked with Tri-State Technical Services, Waycross, Ga., and Pellerin Laundry Machinery Sales Co., Kenner, La., to identify and install equipment that could handle the growing laundry volume without significantly impacting the environment.
“It was critical that we identified environmentally sound, cost-saving technologies that could also get the job done for current and future customers,” Atwell says.
WRC chose a Pellerin Milnor 76039-7G3 seven-module CBW® tunnel washer, which uses significantly less water — about 2,400 gallons per 3,000 pounds of laundry — than the standard 10,500 gallons used by conventional washers. The result is a savings of about 77% in water and sewer consumption.
WRC’s three 640587G1 gas tunnel dryers are designed to handle up to 3,500 pounds of laundry per hour, or approximately 6 million pounds per year. They use about 1,800 Btu per pound vs. conventional dryers, which require about 3,500 Btu per pound.
A Kemco Systems wastewater reclamation system allows WRC to use heat from the discharge water to boost the temperature of its incoming water by 30 degrees. Consequently, WRC uses less gas overall than traditional boilers, resulting in greater hot-water fuel savings.
“Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center’s decision to expand their laundry services in such an environmentally responsible way makes great business sense,” says Aaron Smith, director of plant operations, Flowers Hospital.COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY
Building the new facility has given WRC the capacity and ability to do more business, thus creating more jobs and training opportunities for individuals with disabilities, those with severe barriers to employment, those who receive public assistance, and those who have difficulty maintaining employment and are often underemployed.
WRC is one of 600 nonprofit agencies in the AbilityOne Program, which provides employment opportunities to more than 40,000 people in the United States who are blind or have other severe disabilities.
Since June, more than 150 people — 90% with a documented disability — have worked or trained in one of three WRC laundry/linen areas:
- Soil sorting — Responsibilities include weighing the incoming product, sorting according to type, tunnel operation, chemical injection control, conventional washer operation, cart washing, and area cleanup.
- Finishing — Responsibilities include folding linen, ironing, packing, building carts, tunnel system operation, quality control, weighing the outgoing linen, and area cleanup.
- Flowers Hospital — Part of WRC’s linen management team handles all aspects of linen distribution and pickup, quality control, and linen awareness.
“It means a lot that I have an opportunity to contribute to my community,” says Jessica Wells, a WRC employee. “I love the responsibility and the independence that comes with having a job.”
In support of the contributions of Wells and others, a group of local citizens and Dr. Jack Sasser, WRC administrator, approached Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to discuss the training needs of people with disabilities and the value these individuals add to the local community through job training and placement.
As a result, the State of Alabama awarded a $1 million grant to WRC to complete construction on the expanded work services center.STRIKING TRULY UNIQUE BALANCE
WRC’s laundry operation has enjoyed a history of growth and evolution that continues to meet the needs of the ever-changing healthcare market. It strikes a truly unique balance between laundry technology, environmental responsibility and community development, which are key to the organization’s customer and employee loyalty.