How sanitary is your linen?

July 21, 2019

Stained or dirty linen can always have a negative impact on patient and visitor perceptions, but it also impacts patient safety because it can cause healthcare associated infections (HAIs), which create a significant burden on patients and the healthcare system through extended stays and treatment costs. Different types of linen used by patients and employees can carry microscopic risks that lead to HAIs. A study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases performed fungal cultures on freshly laundered linen at 15 transplant and cancer hospitals across the U.S. The study found that linens were visibly unclean at 33 percent of the hospitals. Even more alarming is that the linens were contaminated with Mucorales, a fungi that can cause a life-threatening condition known as Mucormycosis, upon arrival at 47 percent of the hospitals, and failed to achieve hygienically-clean standards for Mucorales at 20 percent of the centers.

Clean linen is a key component of success in healthcare environments making effective laundry program strategies essential. Whether a healthcare facility relies on an on-premise laundry (OPL) or an outsourced provider, managers must be aware of different types of linen and how to meet and exceed laundry standards. Items such as bed linen and pads, gowns, scrubs and privacy curtains have all been identified as having the potential for cross-contamination.

· Consider the benefits of accreditation. For healthcare facilities that outsource laundering, finding an accredited laundry provider is key. Although no state requires hospitals to use accredited laundries, these businesses have taken extra steps to meet comprehensive standards for safe linen handling and can provide greater peace of mind.

· Ensure the right equipment is in place. The right chemical dispenser helps ensure that linen emerges visibly clean and properly sanitized. Look for a unit that offers accurate delivery to reduce rewash rates and drive sustainability and cost savings. Smart dispensers can even capture detailed records on each load, outlining the exact amount and time of each dose. This is important for compliance and provides proof that the correct chemicals were delivered to achieve clean and sanitary results.

· Keep key parameters in check. The right balance of time, wash agitation, temperature and chemical are necessary for removing stains. Linen is also more likely to be sanitized properly, with all microscopic bacteria removed, when these variables are properly controlled. Dispensers with flow meters and/or accurate pumps ensure that the precise amount of chemical is delivered for every wash formula.

· Maintain cleanliness after laundering. Once linen has been cleaned and dried, it still needs to be transported. If linen carts are not properly maintained, clean linen can easily become dirty once its placed inside. If linen becomes contaminated before it enters a patient’s room, this can pose a serious risk.

Protecting laundry integrity with IoT

Data is essential for driving continuous improvement in laundry. Yet data also needs to be readily available in an easily digestible format. Managers should no longer be relying on outdated paper logs that can be misplaced, damaged or forgotten.

A cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) laundry platform that pulls data from a smart dispenser allows managers to log in and view details about their operations in seconds. Managers have real-time, remote access to data so that they can solve issues more quickly than ever before. For example, if an alarm for inadequate water pressure arises, low chemical levels or a system leak occur, an adjustment can be made to get productivity back on track.

An IoT platform also allows managers to take a broader look at their laundry program. Historical data like formulas, wash temperatures, volume of washes and average production rate over the course of a week, month or even a year is stored and easily accessible. Regularly analyzing data can help managers pinpoint staff training opportunities and in turn, enhance linen cleanliness, prolong linen lifespan, and reduce chemical and water usage, resulting in a more efficient and profitable operation and peace of mind. A cloud-based platform also enhances compliance because managers always know where their data is stored and can maintain that key sanitation parameters are met. Plus, an IoT platform is scalable. If a laundry operation grows or scales back, the platform can accommodate these changes and will continue to deliver a reliable and secure place to view laundry results. Its flexibility makes it a valuable tool for both tactical, day-to-day monitoring and long-term operational summaries.

There are approximately 5 billion pounds of healthcare linen laundered in the U.S. each year. For any healthcare facility, having access to varied data - from the weight to the temperature or pH of each laundry load - ensures accuracy and provides the capability to keep detailed records for compliance purposes and proof of sanitation. Smart dispensers and IoT platforms are continuing to transform the wash process for the better, bringing consistently clean linen to environments that require them in order to reduce the risk of contamination and infection.  

About the Author

John Goetz

John Goetz is Global Product Manager at Hydro Systems