Hospital Laundry Services

Healthcare systems are complex and dynamic environments. It’s not surprising that high-quality healthcare services rely not only on direct patient care professionals but non-patient-care workers to ensure the safety and well-being of patients and staff. Non-patient-care includes hospital laundry collection, sanitation support, and kitchen staff. Although such positions may not sound as glamorous as other medical titles, they are fundamental in the healthcare sector. In fact, data showed that in only 2014, the US healthcare and social sector employed more than 18 million people. Among the non-patient-care workers in hospitals, those performing laundry collection tasks are paramount.

Hospital laundry services are vital to ensure hygiene, safety, and comfort of both patients and staff. Unfortunately, this is a challenging task as laundry workers often face toxic materials, sharps, and injuries. So, what are the additional challenges non-patient-care workers, laundry providers, and hospitals must overcome?

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Laundry Service and Hospital Linen Bag Handling

In healthcare service areas, high-volume soiled linen collection is a challenge. While there are regulations about the capacity of waste and soiled linen storage, in and outside waste collection areas, hospital linen bag handling is not always considered (Teeple et al., 2017). Also, regardless of manufacturers’ instructions to prevent rupture of heavy bags, labels and practice are rarely coordinated. It’s not a secret that hospital linen bag handling is a complex process with defined roles: there are people who clean the rooms and collect the linen, there is staff that transfers the linen bags from a bulk collection trolley to a pneumatic chute system for trolleys (usually in waste collection rooms), there are contracted laundry providers, and so on.

According to the Revised National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), there are estimate Recommended Weight Limits (RWLs) for manual handling of linen bags, but often weights exceed the recommended limits. To prevent back and muscular injuries, workers are advised to lift bags as close to the body as possible, with low elbow extension (Teeple et al., 2017). However, this is not practical when it comes to other factors, such as toxic materials, leaking bags, and sharps, which can put the laundry workers at risk (even when bags are soiled). Thus, to avoid physical stress and musculoskeletal injuries, linen bags should be filled according to dry loose linen, dry compact linen, partially wet compact linen, and wet compact linen. On top of that, the staff responsible for filling linen bags should coordinate their work with all the people involved in the laundry process.

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Hospital Laundry Service and Laundry Facilities

Laundry collection is the first step of the dynamic hospital laundry service. Healthcare laundry operations should also follow safety regulations (Regna, 2012). Since hospital linen is processed by a contracted facility and various hospitals may use the same laundry vendor, laundry facilities should eliminate all possible risks through daily cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Therefore, using a product that cleans and disinfects at the same time is the most time-effective and efficient method. On top of that, experts should choose disinfectants that can eliminate pathogens, such as small non-enveloped viruses (e.g., Norovirus). Contact times, often with 10-minute dwell time, should also be considered.

In fact, experts are encouraged to follow the five R’s to guarantee safe laundry environment and prevent cross-contamination (Regna, 2012):

  • Right staff
  • Right training
  • Right chemical
  • Right equipment
  • Right time

Note that daily cleaning of portable equipment, horizontal surfaces, hard floor surfaces, restrooms, and common areas, as well as weekly cleaning of walls and ceilings, is a crucial factor to ensure hygiene and safety of staff, textiles, and patients.

Hospital Laundry Service and Handling Textiles in the Hospital Environment

Standards should apply not only to the laundry providers and staff but all environmental services. The Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council has implemented various standards for processing reusable textiles for use in healthcare facilities. Hospital staff must ensure safety and hygiene and prevent recontamination and risks – especially when using cotton wipes and mobs (Scherberg, 2014).

Ensuring that hospitals have hygienic linen and textiles, free of pathogens, is crucial. Even if linen comes clean from any laundry providers, inadequate transportation and storage procedures may lead to recontamination (Scherberg, 2014). Some suggestions for hospital staff include:

  • Do not carry textiles against a uniform
  • Do not carry textiles in unclothed arms
  • Always cover clean textiles
  • Store clean textiles appropriately

Note that linen that has been delivered into a patient room is already considered unsafe.

Hospital Laundry Service and Handling Textiles in the Hospital Environment

Dealing with hospital linen is a difficult task. From bag handling to disinfecting textiles – hospitals, laundry facilities, and staff must ensure a safe and hygienic environment, and most of all, patients’ well-being.

Resources

Regna, M. (2012). Cleaner than clean. How hospital laundry operations can guard against HAIs. HFM Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.hfmmagazine.com/articles/53-cleaner-than-clean

Scherberg, J. (2014). Handling textiles in the hospital environment. Following HLAC standards is key to ensuring safe textiles are provided. HFM Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.hfmmagazine.com/articles/1221-handling-textiles-in-the-hospital-environmen

Teeple, E., Dennerlein, J., Hashimoto, D., Soto, L., Losina, E., & Katz, J. (2017). An Ergonomic Assessment of Hospital Linen Bag Handling. New Solution: A journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, 27(2), p. 210–22.

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