Medi-Clean Healthcare Laundry Services and International Laundry Services (ILS) recently received HLAC accreditation and shared their experiences. Joe Mastin, Medi-Clean’s Vice President, and Martha Holguin, General Manager of ILS, approached the process from very different backgrounds.
Mastin and partner, Mark Sussman, have more than 30 years experience in processing healthcare linen while Holguin, an engineer, has one year laundry experience and no healthcare background. Following are Mastin’s observations.
Universal Unilink: Why seek HLAC accreditation
Joe Mastin: Our customers requested it. Some did it in a nice way saying “We would like to see you get accredited.” Others were more direct saying “In the future, accreditation will be a requirement for doing business with us.
Our surgery centers and nursing homes, which are highly regulated by various government bodies, were the most vocal in requesting accreditation as it makes it easier for them to fulfill their regulatory obligations.
A second reason is that we were already using best practices so why not document them and prove it. However, the biggest motivation was the benefit of having that accreditation on all of our marketing materials. It gives our company more credibility with current and potential customers.
UU: Tell us about the process.
JM: First, it was our General Manager, Tony Brooks who spearheaded the process, walked through it with the inspectors and submitted all the paperwork. I was on the committee but Tony receives the accolades for a strategy and hard work that resulted in passing with flying colors.
Theoretically, the process was a year; in reality, most of the actual work was done in 90 days. We wanted to show a consistent pattern over time rather than everything happening immediately before the inspection. We started with putting a safety committee in place, training, Hepatitis B shots for staff, training videos for new hires, proper signage, hand sanitizers and eyewash stations throughout the facility, fully stocked 1st Aid kits, etc. These things are not difficult, but take time to implement.
In addition to putting procedures in place or documenting those already in place, we prepared for the HLAC audit with mock audits. Looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes helped us see where improvement was needed. For example, we discovered training needed attention. The auditors ask employees at random such things as “Show us how you wash your hands.” and as a result of proper training, employees can easily show them because that’s what they normally do; it’s how they have been trained rather than something they rehearsed just before the audit.
We wanted the processes behind the certification to be a way of life for our staff, not just something they do to receive accreditation.
UU: How can a laundry that doesn’t have your extensive background streamline the process?
JM: When going through HLAC requirements, everything is set up by departments with requirements for training, sanitation and signage requirements listed by each department. The requirements are about 64 pages but many are duplicated throughout. For example, the process for hand washing is similar all no matter where it takes place in a plant so breaking the requirements down by tasks made more sense.
At first, we were a bit overwhelmed at the amount of material but we realized a driver washes his hands the same way as a manager or washer technician. Once you consolidated all the repetitive information, it was much more manageable.
UU: It sounds like process documentation is key.
JM: One thing I learned from earning the OSHA Sharp award was that documentation is vital. The old saying was that if you can’t document it, you didn’t do it. You may have an immaculate plant but if you don’t have a disinfectant log with a signature and a date, you didn’t do it even if it is obvious it had been done. If you need to test your eye wash stations once a month and, if there is no record that it’s been checked every month, you did not check it.
We all want a safe plant with no accidents, we all want to avoid cross contamination. You probably remember the hospital in Louisiana that had an infection issue. It turned out to be dirty carts and people died because of that. We have a cart washing system here, but we have to make sure every cart goes through it. You have to follow the protocol.
UU: How would a small plant meet the structural requirements?
JM: Requirements for separation and airflow can be met with wind curtains and separation walls that may not go all the way to the ceiling. Fortunately our facility was designed to meet those requirements from the start. A retrofit plant is more challenging but not impossible.
HLAC standards don’t tell you how a requirement must be met. For example, they don’t tell you how to disinfect carts; they just tell you that it must be done. If you have a cart wash like we have it is simple to set up the protocol with color coded carts—it’s easy to know which carts are allowed in the different areas of the plant. They don’t cross over. You could set up your own protocol and procedures that demonstrate you are accomplishing the same task.
We took considerable time to set up the protocols and document every step to prove that this was not something we did just to get an award one time. This is a way of life.
UU: What else can you add that Members need to know about accreditation?
JM: Eventually you will have to have some sort of certification. If you don’t have these protocols in place, you will get dinged by OSHA if they come to inspect your facility.
In our case, it wasn’t that expensive. I think we spent about $5,000 for the inspection itself. There were some incidental costs for new signage, soap dispensers and things like that. I did not see anything in the HLAC requirements that you should not be doing already. We probably went a little over what was required by adding chains and railing, some new color coded paint so we could pass on the first try. That was a pride thing for us.
We also spent a lot of time training, not just in the past year, but since we began the company. That paid off when the inspectors asked our employees how they wash their hands or how they lock out equipment. They could demonstrate those tasks with ease because of the training; it was second nature.
Documenting training isn’t difficult. A simple one page form with the date and description of the topic, the training method used (video or a manual), and signatures of those in attendance. Just file the form away for documentation.
You can get help with training by working with TRSA or other Universal Unilink partners. You could even work with OSHA. They come in at no charge and walk through you facility with you if you set up a voluntary compliance program. Of course, you must remedy any issues they find, but you would do that anyway to pass HLAC.
UU: Thanks Joe. We appreciate that you are so willing to share your knowledge with our members. Your experience and insights will be helpful for Members considering accreditation.
International Laundry Services’ Perspective
While Medi-Clean started the HLAC certification process with extensive experience with healthcare laundry, Martha Holguin, charged with leading International Laundry Services (ILS) through the accreditation process, is new to the laundry industry! Additionally, the staff at ILS had very little healthcare experience. And yet, Holguin and her Team successfully completed requirements.
ILS, founded in 2012, initially focused on industrial workwear and hospitality linen, but entering the healthcare market was an important part of long term strategy. “As healthcare becomes a larger share of ILS’ business, having the proper procedures and processes in place is very important to our owners and staff. Accreditation assures our customers and prospects that we process their laundry to the highest standards to protect their patients and employees. It also establishes consistent safeguards for our Team and gives them a level of confidence and professionalism.” stated Holguin.
Holguin felt that being a newcomer to processing healthcare textiles may have been an advantage in that “We did not have bad habits that we had to overcome. We learned and implemented best practices from the beginning.” Holguin says that prior experience documenting ISO9000 processes was an advantage as her Team developed and documented best practices and staff training.
She pointed out that smaller laundries or those with little healthcare experience would benefit from having information on options for meeting specific HLAC requirements. “HLAC lists requirements, but not various acceptable options for meeting a specific requirement. Meeting requirements required much research. Our experience would be helpful to streamline the process for other laundries in a similar situation,” states Holguin.
She added “We are one of only two laundries with HLAC accreditation in the El Paso market so it will become an important part of our marketing plan. Even though we are new to healthcare, in the eyes of our customers, accreditation puts us on the same level as laundries that have been in healthcare for many years.”
ILS’ marketing strategy encompasses print, web and broadcast media including press releases, articles in local business magazines, social media, interviews, etc. This important new designation is key to establishing their expertise and reliable service in the healthcare market.
Congratulations to the International Laundry Services Team on earning HLAC Accreditation. Their achievement is especially noteworthy considering they successfully completed this process without prior healthcare experience.