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Institutions Lose Too, When Residents Lose Clothing

Many times the Director of Environmental Services, or Housekeeping-Laundry Director will comment on the fact that it is commonplace for laundry staff to have resident clothing that they cannot identify. They simply don’t know who owns the garments. This sad situation is often a result of using markers on labels that wash out when clothes are laundered, or illegibly hand writing resident information labels.

Or else, it is because nursing homes are using printer ribbon unsuitable for high temperature laundering. Many times they are forced to place all garments on racks and ask the residents if they recognize who the garments belong to! Sound familiar?

Losing resident garments is a serious issue for nursing homes and convalescent centers because they are required to reimburse residents for lost garments. This can be costly. The Agency of Human Services, Dept of Aging and Disabilities, Vermont, for example, states in its Residential Care Home Licensing Regulations the following under Section 8.1.d -“Each resident’s personal laundry shall be identified by a distinctive marking or other method and shall be returned to the resident after laundering.” Section 8.1.e states “Personal items damaged or lost by the home shall be replaced by the home.” All States have similar wording in their respective regulations. The good news is that you can solve the problem and cost associated with lost resident clothing by a small investment in an ID printer and labels.

The issue of lost resident clothing can have wider negative implications. Type in “lost resident clothing issues” in your computer search engine and you get a quick education. The issue comes up again and again on many web sites supporting “senior” rights. They place lost resident clothing on a top 10 Hit List of things families should consider when selecting a nursing home. Families seeking a nursing facility for a loved one are advised to avoid facilities where clothing can be lost. Nursing homes put as positive spin on the issue in their Admissions Handbooks, but the fact is unless you have an ID solution in place, you have a persistent image and public relations problem that will not go away.

What to look for in an I.D. Label System
How do you determine what you need to properly identify and management resident clothing? What is the cost-benefit? If your facility has up to 200 beds, and you are considering a complete package, you will need a low-end printer, printer software, a printer stand, printer ribbon, I.D. labels, and a heat seal machine.

If you already have a computer and printer, all you will need is the printer software, I.D. labels and a good low end heat seal machine. If you purchase all of the items in the package including the ½” x 2 ½” label tape, the cost will be somewhere in the $1,500 dollar range. Of course if you already have a printer, that will reduce the cost to around $1,250. For that price, also expect to receive an ample supply of I.D. labels, typically about 10,000 labels.

The biggest cost is the heat seal machine. A quality machine is typically under $900. Be aware that for this type of low end machine, no compressed air is required. It used to be that you could only get top heat for this price, but in some of the newer machines, top and bottom heat are becoming common. The heat setting for non compressed air machines are selected manually (low, medium, high), whereas compressed air machines have more accurate digital readings and controls.

For a facility with up to 500 beds, you may want to think about a higher speed printer. The price range for a full package is generally around $1,800. If you serve the laundering needs of other outside institutions in addition to your own, you may want to consider a fast printer.

Commercial Laundry Heat Seal Labels
There are two types of labels available to nursing homes – low melt and non low melt. Use non low melt ID label tape if your use a commercial laundry. These labels and the parameters for putting them on garments ensure that the labels will not come off during the commercial laundering process. A heat seal machine is recommended for applying these labels. A household iron will not work on these labels. The heat seal parameters are as follows:

    • Top platen (Teflon covered)) temperature 405° F
    • Bottom platen (silicon rubber) temperature 405° F
    • Set Air Pressure to 60PSI. NOTE: If you have a manual heat seal machine, select the medium setting.
    • Dwell Time: 12 – 15 seconds per label

Institutions have most to lose when it comes to lost resident clothing

In-house Laundry heat Seal Labels
Use “low melt” ID labels if you launder in-house. The temperatures of in-house washers and dryers will not affect the low melt tape. Low melt tape is beneficial if you are concerned about damaging garments through unintentional burning, e.g. garments made of spun poly.

It is possible to apply low melt ID labels using a standard household iron, although a heat seal machine is recommended. To do this, set the iron to its highest setting and apply to a clean, dry surface. Press down on the label using the iron for about 10 -20 seconds. Once the label has cooled to room temperature, check to make sure it is properly attached. If you are using a heat seal machine, a manual machine is less expensive than a compressed air machine although the compressed machine have more bells and whistles and the digital controls on the compressed machines are more accurate. Here are some guidelines for applying low melt labels:

If you have a heat seal machine with top heat only, apply the top platen temperature only given below. If your machine has top and bottom heat, apply both top and bottom temperature setting given below.

    • Top platen (Teflon covered)) temperature 320° F - 340° F
    • Bottom platen (silicon rubber) temperature 310° +/- 10° F
    • Air Pressure 60PSI. NOTE: If you have a manual heat seal machine, select the medium setting.
    • Dwell Time: 12 – 15 seconds per label

The administrator of a large nursing home in New York State advises that not every problem he faces has an easy solution. However, he notes the answer to lost resident clothing is fairly straightforward and once in place and managed properly has been a key piece in the puzzle toward solving a multitude of problems he faces.

Cost-Benefit
What about the cost-benefit? An ID label system:

  • Can reduce headaches and reimbursable costs associated with lost clothing because it solves the problem of illegible writing and information that is quickly washed out on garments.
  • Helps avoid State civil money penalties for lost clothing, and also reduces replacement clothing costs. Records for the State of Pennsylvania, for example, indicate that civil money penalties imposed on Nursing Homes went from a low of six citations in 1996 to a high of 89 civil money penalties in 2003 – a substantial jump.
  • Helps create and project a professional nursing home image which can improve the bottom line. If you are an institution concerned with projecting a professional and compelling image of resident care and wellbeing, it is hard to make a good case for using marker pens to identify resident clothing.
  • Can enable a nursing home to become a profit center if you choose to use your I.D label system to serve and meet the needs of other nursing homes.
  • Can significantly reduce costs of time consuming manual labor involved in writing” information on ID labels using marker pens. With a printer, you can set it to print, leave it unattended, and perform other work.
  • Can improve employee productivity in the laundry room by enabling laundry sorting to be more efficient.

If you add up reimbursement costs, civil penalties, lost business due to negative publicity, the small investment in an ID label system solution pays for itself many times over within a short period of time. For those nursing homes that want the benefits of professional labeling but don’t want to get into the labeling business, there is another option, namely, having a vendor do it for you. This is a good choice for facilities who would rather focus on their core business. No matter what the choice, the investment is well worthwhile.

 

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