Three years ago, The Living Center in Marshall, MO, ran its laundry operation around the clock, outdated dryers burning costly natural gas for far too long with unsatisfactory results.
But when a new administrator took over at the 99-bed skilled nursing facility, she quickly trained her cost-saving lens on washing and drying equipment shared with an adjacent hospital.
After replacing all the machines — including some that had been in use for 17 years — she was able to drop laundry to one shift, eliminate 2.5 full-time equivalent staff positions and reduce utility expenses.
Most importantly, the investment reversed a costly trend of losing an estimated 50% of par to stains each month — thanks to a throw-it-away culture and wash chemicals that were inadequate for a yellowing antiseptic used in the operating room.
“We had to revamp the whole program,” Theresia Metz says. “It wasn’t just that we bought new systems. It was also education and knowing that the technology has really come so far.”
Working closely with UniMac distributor RJ Kool, Metz’s team set up designated equipment and cycles for various service lines, ranging from operating room drapes to long-term care dietary and personals.
Though Metz was in a position to invest, many of the lessons learned in the Living Center’s laundry can be implemented in existing facilities without big budgets for improvements.
It’s possible that labor practices, lack of oversight or bad habits are causing some facilities’ staff to leave money on the laundry room table.
“At the end of the day, I focus on things that directly affect the staff who work in the operation,” says Dale Fowler, national project manager for Community Works’ environmental services division. “Even if your process is old-school, you have to go with any efficiencies you can get.”
Design and workflow can simplify effort and shorten time required for various tasks.
One of Fowler’s first recommendations is to always dump old items that might have taken up valuable shelf space for years.
Then, consider making small, inexpensive changes, such as raising folding tables to tuck sorting baskets below or having enough carts to exchange rather than empty and refill. Giving staff more space can speed processes and improve worker morale, as well as prevent hoarding (see sidebar).
Alice Franks, campus director and administrator for Cantata Adult Life Services in Brookfield, IL, has used Morrison Healthcare to run her dining programs for five years. In late 2015, she had the company take over housekeeping and laundry operations.
Cantata donated old linens to a local nonprofit organization, purchased new carts with better closures for infection control and improved plumbing to ensure an older washer was meeting required water temperatures.
“We don’t have the same economy of scales a lot of the larger organizations with multiple locations do,” Franks says. “Our partners are helpful for helping with processes and knowing about products that are out there.”
The recommendations have saved some money, and Morrison also handles laundry staffing now, which saves her time.
On the other hand, says Grant Lorge, product consultant for Direct Supply, trying to save too much time can backfire.
He’s seen staff overloading collection carts to the point that items might fall out. In the effort to save trips, staff could actually increase infection risk or put themselves in danger of injury because of excessive weight.
“You’re also going to get linen damage because of the increased friction and items tangled together,” he says.
Instead, he suggests setting up a regular pick-up/drop-off schedule and letting all staff and residents know when those times are.
Unit collection points and linen closets are also a great place to add efficiency.
In some communities, bedding, bath and personal attire are collected jointly from residents’ rooms, placed into one container, then divided back out again in the laundry room. If space exists, use separate receptacles for each line.
“Storage in any healthcare facility is premium,” says Linda Fairbanks, executive director of the nonprofit Association for Linen Management.
“Reducing the number of times products are handled, the orderly and systematic approach utilized by the entire textile care team, and application of a clean and tidy space serve to reduce labor cost and reduce the likelihood of contaminating textile products,” she says. “Linen management data becomes your friend and can provide cost savings.”
Well before she got new machines, Metz implemented a strict spreadsheet-based tracking system so she would know exactly where linens belonged and from where they might be disappearing. Today, she says her facility loses just 2% to 3% percent of its linens each month.
Even with the best labor protocols, ineffective equipment can undercut potential gains.
“For those looking for them, the warning signs of poor equipment and processes are out there,” says Bill Brooks, North American sales manager for UniMac. “Linens that emerge from the laundry still stained or scorched; high utility and labor costs; and high dollar or frequent laundry equipment repairs.”
Use the right tool
Having the right equipment — and using it optimally — matters.
Lorge says dryers account for 70% of laundry room energy use.
One UniMac study found that over-drying by just eight minutes per load on a 75-pound tumble dryer can cost a facility $883 in utilities and $4,866 in labor each year.
Removing more moisture than necessary also can lead to accelerated linen breakdown.
Brooks says instinctively cranking a timer to the max is “an excellent example of how inefficient equipment and lack of employee training on proper processes can become costly.”
If you’re in the market for new equipment, selecting machines with drying sensors can help override operator error.
Other problems with equipment might include: chemicals that require staff to measure, versus safer automated dispensing; failure to consider ozone cleaning chemicals, which permit cold-water washes and still meet infection control standards; and older, low G-Force washers that leave more water at load’s end.
Newer washers with extractors, says David Carter, vice president of North American sales for Pellerin Milnor, can reduce water use by 20% to 25%, along with sewer and water heating costs.
Technology can help in other ways, too.
Some sensors can page laundry staff who spend time outside the laundry room, possibly on other housekeeping tasks. That means they can return when needed to switch a load, rather than checking too late and leaving a machine unused for long stretches of time.
Don’t let these common mistakes into your laundry room.
Over- or under-loading
The top complaint listed by multiple laundry experts is failure to weigh loads routinely. Washing machines work best at about 80% of capacity, depending on the extractor, says Direct Supply’s Grant Lorge. Anything more, you risk fabric damage, dirty-looking products and poor infection control. Anything less and you’re wasting money since water and chemical use are pre-set for machine size.
Not using vendors
Scheduled maintenance can prevent breakdowns, which can cause other machines to run more often or require overtime, says David Carter of Pellerin Milnor. Likewise, many chemical vendors provide monthly reviews of equipment and measurements through service contracts. Use what you’ve paid for.
Without good distribution practices or enough linens to go around, facilities may become victims of internal hoarding. It takes only one shortage for a staff member to grab “extra” linens next time; when another floor is then short, the cycle will repeat. A facility might buy unnecessary replacement linens because of the disorganization. Lorge recommends routine par reviews to avoid this slippery slope.
Not allowing for a complete cycle — either turning the knob past a cycle or stopping it before it’s done — can be a major issue because linens are not fully cleaned or rinsed. “Laundry chemicals can be harsh, contributing to pressure ulcers in residents,” says Bill Brooks, North American sales manager for UniMac.
When handling personals, too many communities return hanging and folded laundry separately, according to Dale Fowler with Community Works. Invest in carts that have hanging space and baskets so both types of items can go back to their owners together, or follow the trend of installing unit-based laundry machines for personal items.