Recently I had the opportunity to give a presentation to an audience of healthcare laundry professionals, during which I provided practical insights into attaining accreditation from the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC). The turnout was impressive and the audience participants viewed the process to become HLAC accredited as not only a means to achieve the distinction but as a learning experience providing pathway towards identifying industry best practices. There are many advantages to becoming HLAC accredited. For example, we like to say that meeting and maintaining HLAC Accreditation Standards means a laundry has voluntarily committed to a new level of excellence in the way it processes healthcare textiles. For the healthcare customer, having their laundry processor HLAC accredited is like a dividend, an advantage or benefit that validates the laundry’s expertise, believability, dependability, reliability and soundness. In simple terms, this means the customer can expect a consistent and smooth flow of clean textiles; and, ultimately, the knowledge of safety for their employees and the end user – the patient. For healthcare laundries, HLAC accreditation offers a competitive advantage, an edge that enables them to tell their clients they share their patient safety goals, that they’ve raised the bar on how a laundry should process healthcare textiles, that their clients can have confidence in the laundry’s highest of standards, and that their practices are the industry’s best and most current available. Laundries without HLAC accreditation come up short in these comparisons.
Pathway to Best Practices: Preparation, Inspection, Accreditation
These advantages aside, attendees to my presentation were spot-on with their observation that the process to become HLAC accredited offers a path to the industry’s best practices. To some, this process is reminiscent of a kind of learning journey that exposes virtually all laundry personnel to everything they need to know to ensure that the organization becomes a better, safer laundry for healthcare customers. The path basically involves three steps: preparing for inspection, the inspection itself and then actual accreditation.
Because the inspection is such an important part of the accreditation process, one can surmise that preparing for the inspection is as important. No one wants to risk failing. There are more than 600 standards that have to be met. These standards incorporate both government and non-government regulations, guidelines, codes and processes that cover the complete textile processing cycle, from handling and transporting soiled healthcare textiles, to in-plant processing and delivery back to the customer. The standards also cover many basic considerations, such as facility layout, personnel training, and customer service. Thus, while preparing for the inspection requires considerable commitment, time, planning and teamwork, the learning and knowledge gained from this part of the process is incomparable.
The inspection is a day long, during which an independent inspector, trained on HLAC standards, ensures that a laundry has quality control, quality assurance and quality monitoring processes in place to provide hygienically clean linen not just once, but every time. The inspection aligns with the specifics of the HLAC Accreditation Standards document, “Accreditation Standards for Processing Reusable Textiles for Use in Healthcare Facilities, 2016 Edition,” which is available at HLAC’s website, www.hlacnet.org. The more prepared the organization, the smoother the inspection. Policies, procedures and documentation will be laid out for review; and personnel will be up-to-speed when queried about their work areas and practices that include topics ranging from personal protective equipment and chemical safety, to cart disinfecting, washer loading/unloading and sharp procedures.
Since its founding in 2005 and with its first accredited laundry in 2006, hundreds of laundries have gone through the HLAC accreditation process. Accreditation is good for three years, though HLAC can conduct unannounced inspections at any time during this period. The standards are continually under review and are changed as HLAC learns from experience, education and expertise and these learnings are shared with the accredited laundries and incorporated new guidelines and regulations. The HLAC-accredited laundry is built right, equipped properly and staffed with qualified and trained personnel for processing product, interacting with customers and vendors and maintaining operations in a clean and aseptic manner.
HLAC offers a money-saving special rate to Universal Unilink member laundries that go through HLAC’s inspection process toward accreditation. The special rate for members is a deduction of $1,000 in inspection fees. All you have to do to take advantage of this special rate is begin the application process by visiting http://www.hlacnet.org/apply.
Gregory Gicewicz is president of Sterile Surgical Systems of Tumwater, WA. Gicewicz is past president of the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) and currently serves as HLAC inspection committee chair. HLAC is a nonprofit organization that inspects and accredits laundries processing textiles for hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. Sterile Surgical Systems is an HLAC-accredited laundry.