“Our facility’s linen and uniform losses are becoming a real issue, and I need to develop a strategy to improve security. Where do you suggest I begin? Item tracking, surveillance, keep it all under lock and key? How far should I go?”
Technical Support: Jim Mitchell, Ecolab, Eagan, Minn.
Although you’ll probably never solve all of your linen loss issues, awareness will go a long way in reducing losses.
A good example of awareness is purchasing a security system. If you plaster your yard, doors and windows with warning signs and stickers from the security company, this awareness alone can go a long way in preventing burglaries. When employees and customers are aware that you’re tracking the linen flow, losses will begin to subside. You can create this awareness by incorporating some or all of the following programs:
CREATIVE INVENTORY SEARCH
Are we making an assumption here that the linen loss is due to employee theft or mismanagement? The loss of linens (especially uniforms) isn’t necessarily the result of theft. Linens, especially those in short supply, can be hoarded by employees so their area of responsibility always has enough linen to supply demands.
Look for “unique” storage areas such as personnel lockers, utility closets, storage rooms, etc. Ask customers to do the same. Let employees know that keeping a stock of linen and/or uniforms over and above the norm is unacceptable.
COUNT OUT, COUNT IN
A high percentage of linens are lost at the point of use. Only you can determine if lost linens should be charged back to customers or employees. If you initiate such a program, losses will decline after a couple of months of charge-backs.
This would require establishing a program where linens delivered to customers or employees are counted and recorded, and the inventory report is signed upon receipt. When linens are returned for laundering, they are counted/ inventoried and any missing articles are charged back to the customer or employee.
If one engages in theft or is considering it, being aware that a camera is pointed in their direction while they work can be quite intimidating. As long as your surveillance system covers (or appears to cover) all areas of your operation, including outside areas, theft can be curtailed.
Video surveillance systems can be quite economical. Some can be purchased as an “install it yourself” system to save money, and some obviously can be quite intricate and costly.
RFID (RADIO-FREQUENCY IDENTIFICATION)
Ever shop in a retail store and wonder how purchased goods can trip a security alarm as you exit the building? Although many stores use magnetic ID strips, this can also result when an RFID device hasn’t been properly deactivated.
Such devices come in many forms and sizes, from small wires and tags to tiny chips. Using these devices to track linen flow is becoming commonplace, especially with more expensive linens such as uniforms, bed linens and silks.
Although some laundries use RFID tags or chips for inventorying, sorting and tracking of all linens, having these devices applied to common linens such as sheets and terry may not be practical or economical in your operation. RFID technology is constantly improving, and the devices on the market today are smaller, more cost-effective and offer greater resistance to adverse cleaning elements.
Video surveillance may not provide enough protection in your operation, because there may be areas where installation isn’t possible. Those areas should be kept locked if you suspect they present a security risk. Also, video surveillance systems can be deactivated one way or another. A lock-and-key system will only help add additional protection. One word of advice: Use locks with keys that can’t be duplicated.
How far you want to go with your strategy depends on two things: the size or volume of your losses, and how much money you wish to invest. Regardless what path you choose to take, the key is awareness.
Hotel/Motel Laundering: Neil MacDonald, Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club, Lihue, Hawaii
Where do you begin to get a grip on your losses? Good question! This is something I’m dealing with in uniforms right now. How far should I go? I say, “You need to go all the way!”
Lock it up. Label it. Record it. Pass it out yourself. Push to ensure you’re in control and managing your products.
To begin, if you’re concerned with your losses, then you must be aware that they’re occurring. Being aware is your responsibility and the sign of a good manager. Either you have inventory reports or consumption data, something that’s telling you that you’re not in control and that you need to get a grip on loss.
That means that you have systems in place, which is the first step. But if you don’t have systems in place, then you need to develop something to monitor your products. Inventories, consumption data, sign-out records and bar-code labels are all means to record product data and give you vital information in return.
Before you make any rash decisions, it’s a good idea to speak to the associates and the handlers of your products to find out if there is something that could be done to curb losses. They might have the answer you’re looking for.
You can also visit with your security or loss prevention department. Alert them to the situation, and they may have a solution. If not, present your data to your higher-ups and brainstorm with your peers for solutions. Put the issues on the table with your executive team. Strategize and visualize! If policies and expenses are going to be needed to curb the loss, then you’ll need their approval and support.
Healthcare Laundering: Richard Hoelscher, Parkland Health & Hospital System, Dallas, Texas
Investigate and quantify losses. Identify problems. Ask for the users’ help. Then, solutions often become apparent.
Logo-marked items other than comforters seem to be collector’s/ souvenir items. Eliminate logos on items with a high loss rate unless the item is considered to be an advertising or goodwill item that can be charged out as such. Use a generic “Hospital Property” stamp or print.
Blankets, gowns and pajamas often disappear when patients don’t have clothing or coats/blankets of their own to wear home. Staff members who are trying to comfort patients often give them pillows and linen items. Minimize the amount of linen left in patient rooms. Solicit donations of items to be sent home with the patient, and make them readily available to staff.
Blankets, towels, washcloths, underpads and other items are often damaged, stained or discarded due to abuse, laziness or a lack of knowledge and resources. Check the trash for reusable linens. Supply rags and drop cloths. Educate users in the proper use and costs of linen, and hold them financially accountable for their loss and abuse.
Some items such as washcloths are often almost impossible to control. Switch to a washcloth that costs less but still offers acceptable quality.
Loss of uniforms is simply a lack of control in issuance and returns. A poorly controlled scrub exchange system greatly diminishes its effect. Hospitals have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing access to scrubs and implementing a well-controlled exchange system for uniforms.
Getting a deposit from temporary, non-employees and withholding from final checks the cost of scrubs not returned by employees upon termination make the users financially responsible. Issues with emergency scrub needs in departments can be covered with a “super” user card controlled by the department manager and billed to his or her budget when not returned.
Unscrupulous people steal linens and uniforms that are easily accessible. Place linen carts in view of the nurses station or in a secure location. Lock linen rooms. Establish an ambulance cart. Prosecute and publicize convictions of thieves. Reward and recognize those personnel who report and help identify thieves and abusers.