Laundry Tracking System Keeps Hospital Bedsheets, Balance Sheets Clean

NORTH SIDE – Health care institutions have to keep a close eye on the balance sheets. So when it comes to the bedsheets, more of them are getting out of the laundry business.

The result, besides clean linens, is saved money and space for the hospital and more work for commercial laundries.

Last year, CleanCare bought a hospital laundry co-op on the North Side that Allegheny General, St. Francis Medical Center, UPMC Passavant, Mercy Providence and Suburban General hospitals had owned since the 1980s.

CleanCare president Woody Ostrow – whose grandfather founded the company in Virginia in 1933 and moved it to Pennsylvania in 1954 – said the plant was inefficient because of poor layout and lack of automation. His firm renovated the building inside and out, improving its capacity.

Peter Clakely, vice president of operation at Allegheny General Hospital, said the hospitals were “just not competitive” in operating their own linen service.

“We probably purchased the service for 20 percent less than it was costing us to run the co-op,” said Mr. Clakely. At 4 million pounds of laundry a year, Mr. Clakely said Allegheny General accounted for about half of the sheets, pillowcases and hospital gowns washed at the plant.

Mr. Ostrow said new technology and economies of scale make it cheaper for CleanCare to do the laundry.

At the North Side facility, the company replaced basket-style washers and dryer with a tunnel washer that’s been refined for commercial use in the past five years. Workers sort linens when they arrive at the plant, and then don’t touch the laundry again until it is clean and ready to be placed into finishing equipment.

As for the cleaning, bleaching, sanitizing and softening, an automated system feeds the linens through an 18-chambered tunnel outfitted with a corkscrew-like agitator. Each chamber is filled with water and whatever chemistry is needed for that cycle. As the laundry moves forward at 200 pounds per minute, the water flows backward, a feature that cuts water usage by two-thirds, said Mr. Ostrow.

Rising patient care costs make it impractical for hospitals to sink money into expensive laundry machines, said Mr. Ostrow. The tunnel equipment does not come in smaller sizes, said Mr. Ostrow, so an independent hospital would not see a return on the investment.

CleanCare processes 400,000 pounds of laundry a week for more than 40 health care institutions at the North Side plant. Mr. Ostrow hopes to install a similar equipment at its Point Breeze facility, which it will dedicate to commercial hotel laundry service.

A third site in Lawrenceville washes linens for restaurants and other hospitality businesses. CleanCare employs a total of 180 people at the three plants.

Mr. Ostrow hopes to double the capacity of the North Side plant within the next five years because of the new equipment and the company’s ongoing efforts to teach hospitals the best way to use linens. Using a computerized tracking system. CleanCare can record a hospital’s linen usage down to a single towel, then show the hospital purchasing manager exactly how much it costs every time someone uses an extra one.

Matt Bukovan, manager of The Western Pennsylvania Hospital’s transport services and linen and mail departments, said the hospital saw its linen usage drop by 22 percent after it started using the tracking system in 1992. Hospital workers enter how many hospital gowns, sheets, pillowcases and other linens they use each day into a computer that’s linked to CleanCare’s system. CleanCare then issues the hospital periodic reports, said Mr. Bukovan.

West Penn hired CleanCare as its linen service about 10 years ago, said Mr. Bukovan, in part to free up space for a cardiovascular center. Lack of storage and workspace is an issue for many hospitals looking to get rid of in-house laundries, said Mr. Ostrow. But even for hospitals that have an off-site co-op, he said laundry overhead includes workers’ compensation costs, power and water.

MS. TIPPING is a free-lance writer based in Reserve Township.

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