The Benefits of Laundry Accreditation

The Benefits of Laundry Accreditation: An Owner-Operator’s Journey From Reluctance to All-Out Advocacy

The first call came to us this past spring right around the time of the report “Mucormycosis Outbreak Associated With Hospital Linens,” which was published in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. The reporter, from a national news organization, was looking for an objective source, a leader in the field, to comment on an incident that had identified hospital linens traced to an off­site launderer as the agent of transmission during an outbreak of the deadly fungus that resulted in five deaths at a pediatric hospital between 2008 and 2009.

For the reporter, we were a logical source
for information. The nonprofit Healthcare
Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) accredits laundries processing healthcare textiles with standards that are based on federal regulations and guidelines as well as best industry practices. As HLAC’s current board president, I serve as the official spokesperson. And over several weeks, I talked with numerous news reporters about this tragedy.

My foremost, untiring message: Hospitals, nursing homes and healthcare facilities should demand from their laundries the highest standards in the processing of their textiles — standards that cover the complete textile processing cycle from handling and transporting to laundering and finishing and to customer service.

Overcoming Initial Reluctance

Ironically, I hadn’t always felt such ardent support for the accreditation cause. Once, as the owner and operator of my own laundry processing healthcare textiles, I resisted the idea of accreditation. I was concerned about having to invest thousands of dollars in new systems and processes or risk failing inspection — an important step in the accreditation process. We were a very small laundry, and the costs and work necessary were daunting at first glance. And at first I failed to see the benefits of accreditation — what was in it for my organization and for me?

I’m aware similar reluctance exists among others. But I sought out and spoke with a number of laundries that already had been accredited. All were unwavering in their regard for how the process had improved their service and quality and made them a better, safer laundry for their healthcare customers.

So we took the plunge. And we’re glad we did. Here’s my firsthand account of my company’s path to accreditation, a path that involves three steps: preparing for the inspection, the inspection itself and the actual accreditation.

Step One: Preparing for the Inspection

As I’ve mentioned, the inspection is an important part of the accreditation process. One can surmise, then, that preparing for the inspection is just as important: No one wants to risk failing.

Our preparation process was quite involved and had to be planned carefully. First up was assembling a project team, assigning a project manager and getting everyone’s commitment to completing the project on time.

As soon as the team was in place, we began to focus on the larger infrastructure modifications necessary, since these were the most expensive and would take the most planning and time. In this case, we had to ensure that we had proper airflow from our clean side to our dirty area under all conditions. We have a bay door in our sort area that, when opened, brings a lot of air into the area. In addition, our dryers pull a lot of air, so we had to overcome this as well. We were able to accomplish this by installing three large fans strategically placed in our dryer area that moved enough air to overcome any open bay doors and the dryers. The total cost of this came out to less than $6,000, since we did the work with our team and ordered the fans from an online industrial supply company.

Other smaller facility modifications were also necessary, such as covering any wood surfaces with cleanable, nonporous materials (we used linoleum); replacing acoustic ceiling tiles with washable flush ceiling tiles; ensuring that eyewash stations were available within 10 seconds of key areas; and painting traffic arrows on the floors to ensure that soiled and clean textiles were never at risk of coming into contact with each other.

Concurrent with making our infrastructure modifications, we needed to get our policies, procedures, training, contracts and other documentation in line. This part of the project was time-consuming, but we were able to divvy up the work into manageable portions among the team. We found many templates online, which reduced our workload considerably. We also decided to implement a free cloud document storage system so that all key documents were available to all team members from any location. This saved the team considerable time and enabled team members to modify and collaborate on documents from different locations.

Six weeks, three weeks and one week prior to the actual inspection, I performed practice inspections with the team where I tried to simulate an actual inspection, right down to quizzing the employees on various topics. These were extremely beneficial. By the end of the last mock inspection, the team felt ready for the real thing.

With good planning, a good project team and a good project plan, we were able to minimize and spread the costs of preparation over a nine-month period.

Step Two: The Inspection

HLAC inspectors are independent contractors who have a wide range of experience and expertise in the healthcare laundry industry. Each inspector has the knowledge, skills and abilities to effectively process laundry according to established standard processes, and HLAC inspectors are provided with in-depth training in its standards.

Our inspection process went smoothly. It was a bit intimidating for some of the team members at first, but once they realized how prepared they were, they were fine and did well. The inspector showed up and showed his credentials. Then he went over the areas that he would cover. He started out going over all our policies, procedures and documentation. Prior to the inspection, we had all our key documents laid out on a large table in a conference room to facilitate this process. This proved very helpful and instilled confidence in the inspector that we had our ducks in a row.

After the documentation review, the inspector walked the plant area by area. He focused on cleanliness in all areas, looking for signs of lint buildup, dirt, dirty carts, dirty equipment, debris on the floor, etc. He also quizzed employees in different areas on various topics such as personal protective equipment, chemical safety, lockout/tagout procedures, cart disinfecting, linen inspection, washer loading/unloading, eyewash station usage, sharps procedures, cleaning processes and schedules, truck loading, truck cleaning, machine shut­offs, etc. He measured for proper airflow in various areas, tested eyewash stations, checked dates on eyewash stations, checked for hand-sanitizing stations in appropriate locations, etc. He also observed work practices in various areas such as washer and dryer loading, cart loading, ironer loading, sorting,

leaving the sort room, entering the sort room and hand hygiene.

Inspections take one day. After ours was completed, our inspector reviewed his findings with us and made some very helpful suggestions. A formal, written report from HLAC followed this.

Step Three: Accreditation and Its Benefits

HLAC accreditation is good for three years. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that HLAC’s standards have been professionally recognized and awarded the Seal of Recognition by the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), which means they have met AORN’s own standards of excellence in safe patient care.

To me, all this means accredited laundries are in good company, and I’m happy to report that we learned within two weeks that we had passed the inspection and became part of this special group.

While every laundry’s experience with the accreditation process is different, I’m guessing there are many similar benefits. The process helped us become a much stronger team — smarter and more competent in processing healthcare textiles — and this enabled us to provide our healthcare customers with an improved level of service, ultimately benefitting patient safety.

Other benefits aren’t as obvious:

  • Credibility – Accreditation translates to customer confidence in our service and competence. It’s an advantage for them to be able to tell their own inspectors and their staffs that their linen processor is accredited according to the most rigorous healthcare laundry standards.
  • Value-add – Our healthcare customers regularly come to us for items that are part of the regular HLAC-required documentation, such as wash formulas, titration records, linen standards, safety data sheets, and cleaning and maintenance records — and we have them readily available; we’ve become a trusted partner.
  • Competitive advantage – When bidding for business, the accredited laundry has the clear advantage. In this day and age, would any healthcare facility want their linens processed by a nonaccredited facility?

As I’ve said, we’re glad we chose to go through the accreditation process. We’ve done it twice now, and it only gets easier (and less expensive to prepare for), as we’ve raised our own standards to meet HLAC’s. We plan to continue to maintain accreditation. And our customers can depend on us to stay current with new developments, regulations and rules in our fast-changing world.

About the Author

Gregory Gicewicz is president of Sterile Surgical Systems of Tumwater, Wash., and board president of the nonprofit Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council.

Date: August 28, 2014