October 01, 2007
Nursing home operators rethink laundry practices
Give 'em a hand
Operators that haven't given much thought to their laundry operations might want to rethink that approach. Residents and their family members are becoming increasingly discerning about the level of services provided and are turning a keen eye to the appearance and cleanliness — or lack thereof — of linens and textiles.
Laundry operation experts are comparing more quality- and service-focused residents to customers in the high-end hospitality industry. They expect more and aren't afraid to compare amenities and align their loyalties to the provider that best meets their needs.
“The [provider] that offers a good laundry service to its residents could very well be the one that gets the business,” explained Kim Shady, vice president of distributor sales for UniMac, a Ripon, WI-based commercial laundry equipment provider. “It may not seem like a big deal to the [operator], but it could be a deal-breaker for a prospective resident.”
Still, there's much more to laundry operations than meets the eye — a point that nonetheless continues to elude many assisted living operators. Because laundry operations aren't a revenue-generating function (even though a well-operating laundry service may boost resident satisfaction), they're often more of a design and budgetary afterthought. The result is often inadequate space and poor design flow, and antiquated laundry equipment that marginally performs the task, as well as staff that hasn't been properly trained to safely and effectively tackle the function.
“Assisted living laundry operations can present a challenge because there's no simple solution. In hospitals and other healthcare settings the requirements of laundry operations are more clear-cut, but because assisted living falls somewhere in-between a residential and institutional setting, the requirements are less clear,” explained Tony Clevenger, a hospitality and food service consultant for Clevenger Associates, Puyallup, WA. “What you have is an environment that is doing its best to maintain a homelike atmosphere, while also attempting to meet the varying needs of residents and perform the [function] as safely, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.”
Secrets of success
While there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach to laundry operations, there are some factors that can make or break a good operation.
Ideally, providers need a clear picture of what their laundry operations will entail. Will the facility offer only a commercial laundry or will a separate laundry room also be available to residents? Will in-residence laundry equipment be provided in certain suites? Does the current equipment and design adequately meet the facility's needs?
Partnering with a laundry design consultant who can help providers answer such questions can be a wise move, and the good news is most laundry equipment vendors offer consultative layout and design services for free or for a nominal fee. Budgets allowing, sources recommend offering a mix of laundry solutions.
When designing laundry operations, safety should be a top priority. Clavenger recommends two laundries – one for the residents and one for the staff – to help prevent the spread of infections.
“Having separate laundries is just good practice,” he said.
Wringing out ROI
Well-functioning laundry operations are also largely dependent upon the right mix of equipment. Although budgetary restrictions may make providers somewhat reluctant to relinquish some of their existing — and often antiquated — washers and dryers, sources stress that energy saving, robustly featured models can pay for themselves relatively quickly with added efficiencies and improved outcomes.
Linen replacement is one of a facility's greatest expenses, says Dan Goldman, national sales manager for Wascomat Laundry Equipment, Ironwood, NY.
“Many blame broken down linens on soap, bleach or other products, when many times it's the equipment itself, such as a lack of cycles and controls, that's the problem,” he noted.
Small washers and dryers, while initially offering a more attractive price point, can also wind up costing facilities more.
“A smart operator will put in a larger 40- to 60-pound washer for towels and sheets,“ reasoned Shady. “A larger machine that can do the job in three loads a day is much more efficient than a less expensive residential-style one that would take eight loads a day.”
Modern washers offer many innovative features, such as programmable, dual-language, clearly labeled cycles (“towels-colors” or “personals-whites,“ for example) that can enhance ease of use with push-button operation that automatically determines the proper time, temperature and amount of detergent needed for optimal cleaning. Some vendors, such as UniMac, are also building cycle monitoring capabilities into their equipment, giving facilities an at-a-glance view of more than 100 different measurements, such as cycle start and stop times and operator data that can facilitate performance benchmarking.
High-extraction speeds are another added perk.
“If you can take out more water in the wash cycle, that will help make the dryer run more efficiently,” said Goldman. [Note: High-extraction speeds aren't suitable for all fabrics and items. Though beneficial for items such as cotton towels, high extraction speeds can damage the fibers of more delicate personal items and textiles made of synthetic materials.]
Dryers have also gone high-tech with models that can detect residual moisture and automatically shut off when the load is dry. Over-drying contributes to static electricity and excessive linting, and can also lead to spontaneous combustion. Unlike some dryers that detect moisture in the air, however, Wascomat's TD Series “smart dryers” detect moisture in the fabric — a far more accurate and energy-efficient method, according to Goldman.
Gas-efficiency is another noteworthy plus of late-model dryers. With natural gas prices soaring and projected to continue on a double-digit increase over the next several years, vendors are becoming increasingly committed to developing units that can dry quicker and curb excessive gas consumption.
While experts acknowledge that cost concerns often lead facilities to keep repairing existing machines, they pointed out that leasing could give assisted living operators the best of both worlds by allowing access to state-of-the-art, high-efficiency equipment, while eliminating capital budget restrictions.
“It's a well known fact that many buying decisions hinge on cost,” said William Taylor of William Taylor Associates PLLC in Syracuse, NY. “But it [behooves] a facility to examine their laundry operations and explore their options to determine if there are better, more efficient solutions that would benefit the facility and the [residents]. Consulting an expert on the front-end can help facilities determine the right layout and the right equipment for their own unique needs, as opposed to just going out and buying the latest and greatest thing, only to find out after the fact that it wasn't the right decision.”