Healthcare settings are naturally unsterile unless exceptional measures are taken to sanitize them. All day, 365 days a year, an army of healthcare support personnel is needed to keep a healthcare delivery setting clean, presentable, and sterilized. Among all the equipment, materials, and supplies that need constant cleaning, replacement, or sterilization, healthcare laundry management ranks among the most challenging.
In addition to the challenges of sanitizing, many other obstacles threaten attaining and maintaining clean laundry in a healthcare setting. Here are a few of those challenges.
Pathogen and Infection Control
A sick person is an ideal environment for growing bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can make another person sick.
Just like the flu tears through a classroom or office, place several sickened or injured people in a room or a facility together, and the threat posed by one is multiplied exponentially to everyone present.
Linens, garments, and blankets are ideal conduits for pathogens to reside and threaten everyone present. One way to achieve pathogen eradication is sterilized laundry.
To do that, a well-managed process that never stops and machinery designed for absolute sterilization are critical.
Most people do not think about it, but laundry management in a healthcare setting is not something every laundry company can handle or something you can do at the local laundromat.
Staff must handle soiled laundry, safely dispose of it, and replace it with sterilized components without exposing those to contamination.
That requires specialized training for both management and staff. Finding and keeping both, however, can pose challenges because the work, while vital, is not glamorous and often thankless.
While some facilities have a laundry management department, many use an off-site linen service, which adds vendor management to the mix.
On-premise laundry operations are expensive. Even if a company contracts with an off-site linen service, maintaining a clean healthcare environment is costly. Costs associated with any medical laundry management system managed inhouse or out, includes, but are not limited to:
- Specialized clothing and equipment
- Self-contained stationary disposal receptacles
- Self-contained mobile collection disposal receptacles
- Staff and training for staff to collect soiled laundry
- Staff and training for staff to replace laundry
24-hour facilities that provide continuous care pose their cost challenges. In those settings, management must know how to quickly remove, process, and replace soiled laundry and manage staff to do it efficiently and effectively.
There is also the cost of in-house laundering, which requires its staff, or, as with many facilities, the cost of medical linen service. The first option brings with it the need for specialized equipment, full-time staff, and quality control processes. The second meets all those needs but can be very expensive.
Finally, there are the costs of the laundry itself. Medical laundry often gets deeply soiled and stained. It is constantly strained and often damaged by patients and medical staff as part of administering healthcare. Because of the constant need for sterilization medical laundry also tends to wear out quickly.
All of those factors create a constant expense for new laundry.
Every aspect of a well-run healthcare facility has a quality control process, and laundry is no exception. Facility management cannot leave cleaning and sterilization to chance. Nor can medical staff assume laundry in a storage closet is clean. Whether a healthcare facility manages or outsources laundry, constant quality control is needed.
While inspecting laundry and ensuring its sterilization is challenging, inventory control is just as important. The constant churn of laundry in a medical facility (or with at-home care) means new laundry is always needed. If quality control is not paying attention, shortages of components can develop.
Additionally, ignoring quality control processes risks making patients sicker and exposing existing patients, medical staff, and visitors to new pathogens. For example, if a hospital has poor quality control procedures for sterilized laundry, a breach in the sterilization process will only be discovered after patients, workers, and visitors have been exposed to unsterile laundry.
Cleanliness and Appearance
While the goal of any laundry sterilization system is the disinfecting of the laundry, appearance is also important. No one wants to put on gowns or sheets that have stains from other patients or are overly worn or frayed.
How the laundry looks sends a message to patients and visitors about the cleanliness and management of a facility, fair or not. A well-run facility loses points with patients and visitors if it looks rundown, dirty or chaotic.
Clean Healthcare Laundry is Always A Challenge
These are some obvious challenges of maintaining a laundry operation in a healthcare setting. While many people never give it a thought, managing healthcare laundry is critical to sound healthcare delivery.
Sterilized and clean laundry sends a message to patients and visitors, helps control the spread of disease, and creates a setting conducive to treatment and recovery. Managing it effectively, however, comes with multiple challenges.