First impressions count: Making wise investments

Ross Skadsberg
Ross Skadsberg

The baby boomer generation has been a transforming force on all sorts of institutions throughout their lives, and now with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, they're transforming the long-term care industry as well.

Quality of life and quality of care expectations are higher than ever before, including a desire for hotel and resort type amenities that include fine dining, room service, coffee shops and take-out food options. That means potentially higher costs for providing such services and higher maintenance costs for things like cleaning up spills on carpeting. This is putting pressure on long term care communities to meet those expectations while facing tougher compliance standards and tighter budgets. So it's important to protect your investment in everything from linens to carpeting by considering not only the initial cost, but also the cost of maintaining the things that create a positive impression.

The most important facilities maintenance decisions are often the ones you make before you begin any maintenance: When you're deciding what linens, floor surfaces, counter tops and other items to buy. Will they be durable and compatible with your cleaning, washing and sanitizing processes? And will they stand the test of time?

The first step is to press vendors to provide data on the recommended care and lifespan of the items you are considering. You may be surprised to find that in some cases that advice includes instructions such as, “hand wash only,” which is hardly a cost-effective approach. Another option is to have items such as linens evaluated by your cleaning products vendor. There are many tests that can be done to evaluate durability and compatibility. Below are some of the questions you should ask when choosing linens:

Visual Observations

Are there any obvious changes in the linen prior to laundering or after a series of wash cycles? Any frayed edges, pilling, clumping, loose stitching or noticeable color changes?

Whiteness and Color Testing

How much do white items change in their whiteness, or colors change after repeated washings? How are colors affected by various cleaning agents, including stain removers? Are the dyes colorfast or do colors rub off onto other items? Or, is color transferred when the item is heated such as with an iron?

Shrinkage Testing

How much does an item shrink when washed? Anything more than 10% is cause for concern…but it varies by item. Shrinkage is more of an issue for bed linens than for wash cloths.

Tensile Strength Testing

How many pounds of stress can the material withstand without tearing?

Density and Loft

How dense is the item based on weight by volume? Denser items are usually softer and more absorbent. Does its density change after multiple washings? Do fluffy items like duvets remain fluffy?

Other Maintenance Considerations

Similar kinds of tests can be done on upholstery materials, drapes and carpeting. What appears to be an inexpensive option looks a lot less attractive if you find that its expected lifespan is shorter, or that maintenance will be more difficult or time consuming.

Even hard surfaces such as floors, walls and counters can vary considerably in their maintenance requirements. Modern interiors are using higher-end materials which may require special care. That beautiful stonework or marble inlay may be porous and therefore difficult to keep clean and bright. A new floor's substrate may require a different cleaning and sanitizing process than the rest of your facility.

Just like when you buy a car, your actual out-of-pocket expenses are determined by the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the item, not just the sticker price. You want to be sure that what's clean and bright when it's first put into use, will stay clean and bright for a positive impression that lasts. It's what this generation of residents expects.

Ross Skadsberg is the director of Long Term Care Marketing for Ecolab's Institutional business.

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