Alsco is one of only a comparatively small number of linen providers capable of delivering certified hygienically clean hospital linens. In fact, the company was instrumental in developing the commercial linen industry standards for certified hygienically clean. Needless to say they understand how labor-intensive hospital linens can be.
Providing clean linens is labor-intensive across-the-board. But hospital linens require extra effort given the kinds of things healthcare institutions deal with. It’s one thing to get pasta stains out of a tablecloth; it is an entirely different matter to clean soiled hospital sheets so that they are both hygienic and aesthetically pleasing. Thankfully, technology is making the job easier.
Tunnel Washers in the Plant
One of the best pieces of technology ever introduced into the commercial laundry plant is the tunnel washer. A tunnel washer combines conveyor and corkscrew systems to continually wash items as they are fed from one end of the washer to the other. Employees continuously feed soiled laundry at one end of the washer while another team removes clean items on the other end.
Tunnel washing systems have greatly reduced the amount of labor necessary to clean hospital linens. Bed sheets and pillowcases no longer need to be separated. In many cases, they don’t need to be separated from towels or hospital gowns either. Because all hospital linens are washed in essentially the same way, they can all be put through a tunnel washer together.
Robots in the Hospital
Hospital linens in the commercial laundry plant are labor-intensive enough but consider what goes on in the hospital setting. Even if a hospital contracts laundry services to an outside provider like Alsco, linens are still managed by hospital staff in-house.
Every day there are hundreds of beds in need of changing. In some of the bigger metropolitan hospitals, there could easily be thousands of beds. All of that soiled laundry needs to be collected and taken down to either a loading dock or the in-house laundry room. Likewise, clean linen is either received from a laundry provider or moved to a central storage area until it is used.
Hospital staff load carts of clean laundry and transport them up to patient areas in anticipation of changing beds. With each bed changed, the cycle continues.
At University Hospital in San Antonio, the labor involved in transporting both clean and soiled linens throughout the facility is no longer handled by humans. It has been designated to an army of robots that also transports supplies, recyclables, trash, and biohazards. Each of the 22 robots has been programmed with a specific assignment it carries out as it navigates its way automatically through the hospital.
The system cost about $4 million, with annual maintenance costs ranging in the neighborhood of $50,000. According to the hospital though, the system paid for itself in about four years. It now does the work of 36 people, saving the hospital a ton of money.
The Right Technology at the Right Time
Technology is a wonderful tool when deployed in the right way. The right technology at the right time has certainly proved capable of eliminating much of the labor involved in utilizing hospital linens. From commercial laundry plants to hospitals, less labor makes processing everything from bed sheets to hospital gowns more cost-effective and efficient.
Next time you find yourself visiting a local hospital, look on the positive side. At least know that a combination of technology and hard-working laundry employees have guaranteed you access to clean bed linens and hospital gowns. We have it better here than in most other countries.