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Leading in Laundry Accreditation

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Laundry services are among the most vital aspects of operations in healthcare systems. One need only consider the bulk of bed sheets, mattress covers, towels, washcloths and garments deployed on a daily basis at hospitals, clinics, senior care centers and other enterprises. The costs and standards-of-care involved in the efficient and safe continuance of laundry operations has increasingly seen healthcare organizations rely more on specialty service provides. These laundries allow healthcare to not only save on costs, but better focus on their mission to care for patients. Yet, regardless of who is handling the laundry, the demand for safety, infection control and cleaner-than-typically-clean linen is much the same. The work of one industry council has not only helped raise the bar in laundry standards, but has effectively created a means of rapidly distinguishing quality professionals that embrace those standards.

Since its founding in 2005, the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) has dramatically helped effect change in the laundry industry through its development of a comprehensive set of standards that fulfill requirements for worker safety, patient safety and infection prevention in the processing of healthcare textiles.

Prior to the creation of HLAC, there was NO neutral organization that could design a system to effectively deploy quality standards throughout the industry. After establishing an industry task force, HLAC emerged with a Board of Directors, each carefully recruited, who today volunteer time, energy and insight on behalf of the industry, the employees, and especially, the people dependent on care among healthcare facilities. As an independent council that empowers all with equal voice, HLAC has not only acted in the best interests of its industry and its customers, but has also delivered a mechanism for achieving best practices through the auspices of accreditation.

“We’ve driven additional excellence in healthcare processing that our stakeholders can rely on,” says HLAC President Rocco Romeo. “The Council’s primary goals are looking after patient and worker safety, as well as the nursing staff and the doctors… all are receiving better product through our accreditation process.”

Atypical of other councils, Romeo says HLAC is not necessarily about increasing its numbers, but driving acceptance of the processes necessary to provide hygienically clean linen and textile to stake holders.

“When you look at linen and laundry within a hospital, it’s like water and electricity. Without it they can’t function. It’s an important part of patient care and a critical part of the supply chain. I would want to make sure that laundry that is providing that service is accredited,” says Romeo.

Achieving Accreditation

For laundry organizations that submit to the process, accreditation serves to demonstrate operational compliance to key government mandates for handling, processing and transporting healthcare textiles. It demonstrates, for example, that the facility is following OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard to the letter. It demonstrates laundry personnel have been properly trained and the fact that company is following best practices in its systems, policies and procedures to provide consistent delivery of textiles congruent with the expectations of its customers. It is quite simply the highest indication of excellence in this industry.

The benefits of accreditation extend to healthcare customers who can be assured with the knowledge and confidence that the textile provider is meeting the highest standards of care to also cater to their needs and expectations.

Though inspections relating to accreditation are described as uncomplicated, Romeo says it is not a rubber-stamping process. Laundries might need to make major capital investment through the acquisition of new equipment. On the other hand, inspectors may determine the laundry only need to make changes in certain policies or procedures, or have better documentation. Each case simply depends on the extent to which the laundry follows the processes dictated by accreditation.

Romeo says laundries additionally benefit by achieving greater operational effectiveness. “It comes out as a stronger laundry and stakeholders realize that too. Accreditation also provides a positive marketing benefit, which is important advantage over operations that are not accredited.

HLAC Executive Director Regina Baras says it is difficult to pinpoint average compliance rates in the industry because so many of the healthcare laundries are constantly outsourcing to other enterprises. Yet, she notes that in the industry, as well as among the customers served by the industry, there is increasing awareness of HLAC’s accreditation standards. Baras says that recognition has led to increasing want of participation from companies throughout America, but has also generated interest from companies outside of North America. Beyond the laundries who have achieved accreditation in the United States, HLAC has additionally accredited operations in Canada and Mexico, and even one in Israel. As Romeo affirms, “We’re becoming known internationally for our high standards in the laundry industry.”

Promoting Excellence

In terms of moving forward, the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council is going to increase their focus on educating laundry organizations about the accreditation process. “Going through the process of accreditation is, in itself, helping to educate users about the important procedures and policies they should have in their organization to comply with the standards,” says Romeo.

Another focus for this year will be introducing a series of webinars on key areas of concern within the laundry industry. The webinars will cover aspects functional separation of soiled vs clean linens, infection control methodologies, waste/hazmat disposal and a range of other essentials. Additionally, the webinars will explain how laundries can fully prepare for the HLAC inspections involved in the accreditation process.

Through its providing of education, through its advocacy of the quality standards that lead to greater operational efficiency, improved safety and health, HLAC is poised to further build upon its role as the premier accrediting body and fundamental arbiter of excellence in the laundry industry.

For more details on the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council, or how to apply for accreditation, visit the Council’s website at www.hlacnet.org.