In order for my customers to be responsible for linens and garments, I suppose they need to be instructed or reminded about abuse. What steps can my operation take to train them and minimize these occurrences? Is it possible that we’re abusing the linen during processing and/or distribution?
HEALTHCARE LAUNDERING: Richard Hoelscher is the associate director of linen services for Parkland Health & Hospital System, Dallas, and oversees the laundering of more than 10 million pounds of healthcare linen annually for four hospitals. With three supervisors, he’s responsible for 75 workers in production, repair, packing and distribution.
Before trying to train customers, it’s of paramount importance that they see how the program will benefit them. While their senior administrator may dictate this training, that alone won’t likely yield the desired results. Start by asking your customers what you can do for them. Then, by doing it, you’ll gain their confidence and they’ll be more receptive to your suggestions and supportive of your efforts.
Abuse is any unauthorized use that damages or improperly takes linen out of service. A linen committee is helpful in establishing what is authorized, identifying common abuse and finding ways to meet the customer’s needs while reducing abuse.
Are patients/guests taking linen? Do maintenance, housekeeping and other employees use good linen for rags, drop cloths, etc.? Is linen going in the trash? Some users don’t understand that even heavily soiled items clean up well.
Are pillows that should be cleaned in the unit being thrown down the linen chute? Are patients wearing two gowns? Are tape and other adhesives applied to reusable textiles? Does anyone write or draw on the linen? Are sleeves cut to remove gowns from patients with IVs? This list can go on and on!
Procedures and policies that contribute to linen abuse need to be changed. Are customers supplied the right items? Are rags and drop cloths supplied to everyone who needs them? Are they easily distinguishable from good linen? Do soiled-linen bags and trash bags look alike? Is there a user-friendly way for customers to return stained, worn and/or damaged linen to the laundry?
Observation with photos and study should be made to determine what types of abuses are prevalent and their resulting costs. Print charts and break down the costs. If your customers can see these costs and how they affect them, they’ll listen and want to protect the linen. Show customers how being better stewards of their resources will improve their image.
Most major linen suppliers offer much assistance, including customer surveys, recommendations of best practices, training materials and in-service training.
Can your linen training be added to an organized online or classroom program that your customers are already required to complete?
Speak at departmental meetings. Write a newsletter article. Posters in the linen supply areas can be helpful reminders.
Open houses and laundry tours are good ways for customers to see what linen services employees face. Food, prizes and making it fun help draw people to these events.
Finally, be sure to recognize customers who make improvements.
And, yes, it’s possible that your laundry employees are abusing the linen. Is wet linen allowed to mildew? Are the correct procedures for washing, stain removal and rewash being followed? Is linen dragged, left on the floor and run over? Improperly maintained equipment can also damage or stain linen. Are sheets used to cover carts? Is linen being used to tie carts, stop carts or slings together?
Most people, customers and employees alike, want to do things the best way. They just might not know what that way is and why it’s important, or they may not have what they need to do it. Bad habits are hard to break, so be consistent and persistent.
TEXTILE/UNIFORM RENTAL: Steve Kallenbach has been in the uniform apparel and industrial textile business for more than 29 years, from route sales/service to group general manager to regional sales manager. He has been regional sales manager for American Dawn since 2004.
Controlling customer and plant loss and damage (abuse) of textiles is one of the most important issues in textile rental and maintenance. After all, merchandise is the second highest cost of your operation (just behind labor).
Your customers need to be reminded of the cost of replacing merchandise by a good loss-and-abuse billing system and by education when loss or abuse happens.
Additionally, and especially for linen accounts, customers should be reminded to keep soiled bar mops, grill pads and aprons separate from linens and garments. This will cut down on mildew and staining. Also, remind them to keep trash out of their linen and kitchen toweling items. Another customer reminder is to use wiping towels, not expensive items like napkins, for cleanup.
Finally, you need to make sure you have the right items in the account. If a customer uses bar towels, chances are they need grill pads designed for the grill-cleaning work. Post signs near your bag stands and collection bins. When you visit your customers, provide ways by which they can lessen their damage charges.
In the end, there will always be a certain amount of loss and abuse. The issue at the customer level is in minimizing occurrences and then collecting and recovering through proper billing and communication.
In the plant, there are myriad points in controlling abuse.
First, train your soil-sorting/-counting associates to inspect goods for abuse. As they cull bad goods, these counts should be noted on your soil cards for charge back to the customer. This takes continuous training.
On the garment side, when stained or ripped goods are marked for replacement, associates should be trained to differentiate as to whether the replacement is due to normal wear and tear or to abuse. Again, if for abuse, the garment should be marked and returned to the customer along with the replacement charge.
Associates need to sort the soil items properly, segregating by color, degree of soil and, in most cases, item. Clear all trash – pens, utensils, paper, etc. – during sorting. You can’t imagine how many loads are ruined because an ink pen exploded in a washer or dryer.
Proper sorting of soil can cut down on the percentage of rewash. While rewash reclaims certain merchandise from loss due to staining, it can also wear out goods that shouldn’t have been rewashed.
Use proper weights in your washers, per your formula guides. Overweight loads can reduce cleanliness. Once these goods are dried, stains can be set permanently.
Follow proper formulas in the wash room, as formula selection is a common problem. Washroom associates will many times run merchandise on heavy-soil or stain-removal formulas to ensure no rewash. The result is that you’re losing wear life on your merchandise, since these formulas typically degrade the fibers in order to remove stains, etc.
Don’t assume that your chemical feed system is always working properly. Check your pH and bleach residue as your associates remove each load. High pH (from high alkali or low souring) or high bleach (from low antichlor) can cause textile damage, especially when dried at high temperatures.
Water levels can cause all sorts of chemical and/or mechanical action issues if they’re not proper for the formula, so check them.
Additionally, check washer and dryer baskets often for burrs or sharp edges that can tear merchandise. Melted plastic stuck to the dryer basket can change the temperature inside quite drastically. And make sure that flame doesn’t impinge the basket and scorch the merchandise.
Check the temperature of your ironers regularly. Overheating linens can melt merchandise.
Finally, walk around your plant. You’ll find goods on the floor at almost every station. Put them in their proper place, and train your people to respect the products. Don’t allow laundry carts to run over the goods.
And watch some of the unloading “utensils” such as hooks that washfloor associates sometimes use when removing goods.
Run your goods through wash and dry as soon as possible, and wash out each day if possible. Letting goods sit only adds to your mildew and staining issues.
Make sure that your chemical company increases the mildicide on appropriate formulas during hot months. Your managers or chemical reps may not want to do this automatically because it increases your trackable chemical costs, but the payback in merchandise life is well worth the investment.
At both the customer and plant levels, you need to create a culture of respecting merchandise and participating in the continuous recycling of textiles. It’s all about reusing the goods, not having to throw them away. Continuously inspect what you expect!