Are there substantial differences in equipment and procedures between a commercial or rental plant and an institution-based laundry? If so, what are they, and why do such differences exist?
HEALTHCARE LINEN SERVICES
Cindy Molko, RLLD, Director of Linen and Central Services, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.:
When hosting members of our organization who have no experience in textiles or laundering, the usual comment I hear is “How hard can it be?”
An individual with little experience in either institutional or commercial laundering might also ask “How different can they be?”
Depending upon the type of customers, product volume and the services provided, the differences can be substantial.
Eleven years ago, we closed two of our hospital-based laundries and contracted services with a new commercial facility. The hospital laundries were supporting in-patient and surgical practices. These laundries had production standards and procedures geared to process the basic textiles for in-patient care as well as the specialty items needed to support unique surgical cases. Each hospital had equipment that met the needs for the volume and products used.
The commercial facility that we contracted with was planning to provide laundry support for hospitality and uniform rental as well as our hospitals and other healthcare facilities. As a result, equipment purchased for the new facility was different from what was used in the hospital laundries.
Since combined volume for all institutions was larger than the individual facilities, the commercial facility could justify the use of tunnel washers, large-capacity dryers and finishing equipment with high-volume output.
Supporting the needs of multiple customers can also require duplication of some types of equipment. As the commercial service planned the equipment needs of the new facility, it looked at all the goods to be produced before selecting equipment.
Due to the large volume of bed sheets that would be processed, a high-speed ironing system with a capacity of 1,100 sheets per hour was planned. However, as the commercial facility began to understand the needs of our hospital, it was discovered that the fold from this system would not allow the nurse to change the sheet while the patient remained in the bed. Thus, because one of its customers’ requirements was significantly different, the commercial provider had to use a different piece of equipment to meet that need.
The number of customers and products also demonstrate differences. In an institutional laundry, which dedicates the support to that organization, the laundry manager needs to be aware of specific customer needs. While it is true to say the commercial laundry also needs to be aware of customer needs, it may serve more than one paying customer, thus requiring established tracking procedures to prevent loss and billing errors.
Basic differences exist between institutional and commercial laundries as one looks at the type of textile, expected service of the customer and product volumes. Large commercial laundries as well as large institutional laundries that provide service for multiple customers will have equipment to support high volumes. Facilities with smaller volumes may not require the support of a variety of equipment.
MEMBER AT LARGE
Ken Tyler, RLLD, CFM, managed the world's largest laundry program for the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1977-2000:
There are few differences between institutional/commercial and rental plants regarding laundry processing equipment and operational procedures. The primary overall differences that do exist relate to customer service issues and the time spent on resolving any challenges that may exist.
Commercial plants are usually not driven by profit, while rental plants are operated more like a business. While this is not the way it should be, it is certainly the way of the land and also demonstrates why, in most cases, commercial facilities are usually taken over by rental establishments.
Rental establishments routinely spend more time on training and education than a commercial facility does. You don’t hear comments like “Management won’t spend money for me to go to the Clean Show” coming from personnel at rental facilities. A rental plant usually realizes it takes a financial investment to achieve the most efficient operation and, as a result, spends money to make money.
There are also some lessons that rental operators can learn from their commercial/institutional counterparts.
Many rental operators purchase equipment “off the shelf” without conducting much research. Commercial operators are usually driven by an institution to purchase items through a competitive process. The problem here is that the competitive process should be based on best value, not on lowest price.
Rental operators spend much more time working to identify what the customer desires and attempting to find the product or products to meet those desires.
On the institutional end, the process of textile selection is usually driven more by cost than by best value. Rental is driven more through the use of reusable items, where institutional is more of a 50/50 process without much regard to what may be better.
I believe much can be learned in both venues of laundry operations, commercial/institutional and rental. I would encourage educational endeavors sponsored by various professional organizations to concentrate on a mix. I hope we can all be working off the same baseline someday.
All in all, there is very little difference between them, but many lessons can be learned.