Getting in the groove: making the most out of your laundry and housekeeping team

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Getting in the groove: making the most out of your laundry and housekeeping team
Getting in the groove: making the most out of your laundry and housekeeping team
Astute facility managers know laundry cycles go beyond wash and rinse in the long-term care environment. They encompass a larger sphere of activities, such as collection, staging, production, distribution and delivery.

Ensuring a smooth rhythm and flow of these logistical components, specialists say, saves time, aggravation and, perhaps most important of all, money.

Among vendors and providers, the consensus is that diligence, communication and cooperation are integral to an efficient laundry department process.

“The key to success is teamwork,” said Paul Yacovitch, facility operations manager at Shell Point Retirement Community in Fort Myers, FL. “Any system is only as good as the people who make it work, and we consider ourselves very fortunate here.”

While Yacovitch concedes that paying attention to details such as laundry labels is a basic concept, he maintains that this “tried and true” method is essential for laundry efficiency.

“The CNAs will put the dirty clothes in a hamper where they are picked up, washed, clearly identified and within a day are delivered back to the room,” he said. “Identification is the key.”

Terry Satchwell, vice president of strategic accounts for Kenner, LA-based Pellerin Milnor, says effective operations start with strong leadership.

“Laundry and housekeeping staff perform well and meet the standards set for them when given the proper equipment and training,” he said. “By having modern and efficient equipment in good working condition, staff can finish on schedule, without overtime or poor results.”

Laundry and housekeeping personnel need proper guidance, communication and advocacy from their supervisors in order to establish a high level of productivity, Satchwell said.

“For example, a laundry washer may have operating problems that cause a low water level and as a result, insufficient rinsing,” he explained. “This can lead to severe problems with pressure ulcers and other complications.”
In examining laundry operations for Pittsburg, CA-based Taylor Houseman, sales representative Charles Clark said the most common hurdles are doing too little or too much in different areas.

“What we typically see are undertrained staff, underloaded machines, overdrying and equipment that is not being maintained,” he said. “For example, one facility we reviewed used three dryers and the staff was consistently overdrying because there were no established procedures; employees simply twisted the mechanical timer as far as their wrists turned. With a little education, we saved them several hours of drying time per day.”

Steve Hietpas, national sales manager for Maytag Commercial Laundry in Benton Harbor, MI, believes that considering the tremendous amount of sorting, pre-treating and rewashing nursing home crews must perform—especially for linens—most facilities do an admirable job.

“One area where they do need to improve is laundry equipment efficiency,” he said. “Crews can be very proficient in getting linens back and forth from the laundry, but the time it takes for the equipment to wash and dry also plays a critical role in the overall efficiency of the operation. Nursing homes with slow equipment often have washers sitting empty and several carts of wet linens waiting to go in the dryers. Washers with higher spin speeds allow dryer times to closely match washer cycle times, leading to a smoother operation,” he notes.

Satchwell has been auditing laundry operations for more than 25 years and says linen management is a prime area to target for increasing efficiencies.

“I see wonderful opportunities to reduce the double and triple handling of linens in the time they are folded to the point where they are placed on the housekeeping carts,” he said. “Less labor is required to use an exchange cart system. Facilities should consider removing stationary shelving in the laundry room and linen closets and use a common linen transport mobile.”

Mark Moore, president of Versailles, KY-based distributor REM Co., sees similar irregularities and identifies higher laundry volume as the cause.

“Patients are being discharged faster from hospitals, which means they are arriving at long-term care facilities earlier in their recovery process,” he said. “As a result, they are generating 40 percent or more laundry than 15 years ago. This has caused many homes to operate two laundry shifts and, in some cases, three shifts of labor and the higher costs associated with it.”

The ergonomic factor

If there's any labor function that would benefit from proper ergonomics, it's laundry, Satchwell says. But, he contends, it's among the least ergonomically sound areas.

“It is common to see washers and dryers not designed or installed to the best height possible for loading and unloading laundry in the machines,” Satchwell said. Laundry carts and folding tables are often not at the correct height to reduce back strain and fatigue. An area where the operator stands most of the day should have an anti-fatigue mat and proper air flow. This can increase productivity, lower turnover and reduce operating costs.”
Satchwell suggests implementing ergonomic policies based on a thorough examination of laundry room procedures.

“Communicate with your staff about any task that requires unnecessary movement—a laundry cart that is hard to push or maneuver or a folding table under 36 inches high that causes back strain,” he said. “Unnecessary trips between a housekeeping cart and the laundry room cost labor.”

Equipment upgrades

Streamlining procedures, eliminating redundancies and easing exertion are all labor- and cost-saving techniques, but facility operators shouldn't overlook how advanced equipment can also enhance the bottom line, laundry specialists say.

For instance, a common reason for not installing efficient new high-speed washers, Hietpas said, is because it used to mean altering the floor to accommodate them.

“Until recently, high-speed washers needed to be bolted to a floor at least 12 inches thick,” he said. “This meant older facilities with floors only four to six inches thick would need to have their floors torn out, have a new floor poured, then wait for it to cure.

Only after this lengthy process could the new washer be installed, assuming the replacement was completed properly.”

New soft-mount, high-speed washers eliminate the need for floor replacement because they don't need to be bolted down or installed on a 12-inch thick floor, Hietpas said.

New automated controls for washers and dryers also help to reduce water, sewer, gas and electric costs, Satchwell added.

“A simple touch of a button should enable the laundry operator to match fabric type to the most efficient use of the machine, whether it's the washer or dryer,” he said. “Modern washers and dryers also promote longer linen life. Other than direct labor costs, linen replacement is the second-largest direct operating expense of the on-premises laundry.”

The IT option

Information technology also is playing a vital role in the modern laundry operation, though Kim Shady, North American sales manager for Ripon, WI-based UniMac, admits that its financial advantages aren't always apparent to providers.

“Management largely views the laundry as a cost center and would rather focus time and resources on more visible elements that directly impact residents,” he said. “However, upgrading to laundry management software can help save the facility money over the long run. Management software can also help with another major hurdle—consistency,” he explained. “By generating regular reports, managers can ensure laundry procedures are being followed to yield top quality results and optimum linen life.”

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Saving time, labor and money

Here are some ways long-term care facilities can maximize their laundry and housekeeping operations:

PROCEDURES

-Be methodical about labeling resident clothing to avoid confusion.

-Collect clothes for identification shortly after the resident arrives.

-Supervisors should serve as advocates for laundry and housekeeping personnel, establishing firm guidance, top training methods and open lines of communication.

-Examine the entire laundry cycle to ensure washers and dryers are being sufficiently loaded.

-Look for opportunities to eliminate redundancies with linen handling, folding and storage.

-Emphasize proper ergonomic practices for loading, folding and transporting laundry.

EQUIPMENT

-Consider the long-term economic benefits of new equipment, such as high-speed machines that can reduce drying times by half.

-Automated controls can lower water, sewer, gas and electric costs, and lengthen linen life.

-New “green” washers and dryers offer environmental as well as cost benefits.

-Laundry equipment and management software helps save money by allowing managers to more closely monitor results and create a more consistent operation.