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HLS… The Chicagoland Healthcare Service Company

Arriving at the new HLS facility in Wheeling, Illinois, a first-time visitor can't help but experience a feeling of awe at the size of this modern building that stretches a quarter-mile from the front door to the back wall. Covering 310,000 square feet on a seventeen acre site, HLS has been carefully planned out for meeting the present and future needs of healthcare customers that currently number 46 hospitals, 12 nursing homes and more than 500 clinics in the greater Chicago area.

This customer base has doubled in recent years and continues to grow in concert with Chicago's population.

Established in 1972, HLS had grown over the years to comprise three separate buildings in the Chicago area, one in Chicago, another in Bolingbrook and a third near the new facility in Wheeling. "We had outgrown our main facility in Chicago," said Don Pedder, president and CEO, "and studies supported the benefits of efficiency and economy we would realize by combining all our operations under one roof. We estimate this consolidation will reduce overhead more than a million dollars the first year, including water, gas and electric savings, and a reduction of sixty full time employees from a present level of four hundred eighty."

Stepping out of the front office area and into the cavernous receiving department, a large banner proclaims, "The Future Is Not Disposable." This slogan, the result of a contest involving all employees, has roots that appear to extend deep into the company's management foundation. "Quality equals value," says Pedder, "and that quality is the sum of our employees, our equipment, our customer service and our daily operations. If it were not made permanent by attending to it every day, it could become, in a sense, disposable and we would not be preserving our future as a viable company. This facility has been designed…building, equipment, and people…to let us achieve our mission statement, which is to supply the highest quality, on time, for the least amount of cost."

Soiled linen coming into the receiving department is separated and sorted according to customer, using individual slings for each item classification. These items range from sheets, bath towels and wash cloths, to patient gowns, X-ray gowns, telemetry gowns, baby linen and sterile recovery items. Everything is pre-sorted to assure smooth flowing productivity. The sorters start an hour earlier on the morning shift, to make sure there will be a steady flow of soil slings when the wash room begins operations. HLS maintains a one hour buffer of work all the way through the plant, so no department is ever standing around waiting for work. From the sorting area, the slings are taken automatically to an overhead Jensen Future Rail system and staged for call-up by item as needed.

In the wash room, slings are directed by computer command to four Lavatec tunnel washers. Each tunnel has sixteen 150-pound compartments and a 45-bar membrane press. Three of the tunnels automatically convey 150-pound extracted "cakes" to twenty-four 350-pound Lavatec dryers, eight for each tunnel. The fourth tunnel is used for the flat work items. "No dryers are needed for the flat work pieces," says Pedder, because the new forty-five bar Lavatec presses remove so much additional moisture, the items can go directly to the finishing department. We're saving two thousand minutes a day by eliminating drying time for flat good products. That's over thirty-three hours during the two shifts we operate daily." All four tunnels have the ability to transfer wash to any line for drying or conditioning. Water and heat reclamation equipment was supplied by Kemco and transferred from the previous HLS plants.

"Drying capacity is very important," adds Bill Jones, vice president of HLS. "Only ten years ago, our linens were seventy percent flat work and thirty percent dry fold. Today, it's eighty percent dry fold and twenty percent flat work. For example, fitted knitted bottom sheets are now being utilized and do not require ironing. They dry quickly and go directly to the folding department.

Also, an increase in cotton in many of the items has changed the mix tremendously. We said if there was one particular area where we were going to spend the money wisely in this new plant, we were going to make sure drying capacity never becomes an issue." As an added productivity bonus, having this dryer capacity lets HLS shut down selected units for regularly scheduled preventive maintenance and cleaning, to keep their equipment in top-notch order.

Overhead rails on the "clean" side take slings of items to the finishing department. If ironing is required, there are three new Lavatec Lavaroll LR1200-3 (3 roll) ironers, as well as one Chicago Century 4200-3 (3-roll) ironer and two American Laundry Machinery HyPro's model 141 (one 6-roll and one 8-roll) ironers, that have been brought over from previous HLS facilities. Feeders have been supplied by Lavatec BB&D, Chicago and Jensen, with folders from Lavatec and Chicago. The HLS facility is designed to process 100 million pounds a year and they're currently handling 55-million pounds annually.

HLS has 6,000 shipping carts in their system. Most are aluminum GSM and Onboard Tech carts from Canada, but there are still many of the older Metro carts in use. A six-person cart repair department, three on each shift, keeps the carts in good shape. A 390-foot-long Pioneer chain-operated automatic cart washing system cleans and transfers carts from the "soil" side of the plant to the "clean" side in a seemingly never ending procession.

Twenty-seven tractor trailers and eight step vans are on the move 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, servicing HLS customers in a radius that exceeds 40 miles from the plant. LogoFlex operating system software from Denmark directs all billing and shipping procedures.

Within the plant is a 40,000 square foot, sealed environment, sterile recovery department that has earned the coveted ISO 9002 certification for HLS. Each week, about 140,000 pounds of items are sent from the wash room directly to this department where over 4,000 sterile packs a day are processed for thirty-three of their hospital accounts. Three American Eagle sterilizers, also called autoclaves, each sterilize 450 packs an hour with 330 degree steam. With this department, HLS is actually classified as an FDA regulated, Class 2, medical device manufacturer.

HLS also purchased a complete new garment finishing and sorting system, from Ellis Corporation, that included a Colmac finishing tunnel, Colmac Triple Connie lab coat press and Kannegesser automatic garment folder. Datamar radio frequency chips are secured in each garment for inventory control capability. "It is our goal," says Pedder, "over the next two to three years, to grow the business within our existing customer base to give them garment quality and flexibility that is required in healthcare today."

"Hospital decision makers are very busy people," says Pedder. "They are hard to get a hold of and keep their attention for any length of time, especially with all the changes going on in healthcare today and all the demands being made on their time." To help overcome this, HLS has a Board - called the Operating Liaison Committee -- comprised of executives of their hospital customers. HLS hosts quarterly meetings attended by these executives or their representatives. At the meeting, Bill Jones presents a status report…sort of an HLS state of the company address. Members of the committee then present their problems and all share in a problem-solving brainstorming session It becomes a forum for all to discuss the state of current linen service. All 49 items in the product line, for example, were picked by this committee, right down to the selection of the manufacturer. Customers of HLS thus control new fabric selections, colors, styles, costs, quality, and differences in laundering requirements.

A majority vote is needed to make a change, to ensure the decision is in the best interest for the entire "system." For instance, because of the introduction of "birthing rooms" and a growing emphasis on patient ergonomics at the hospitals, the committee voted for new mothers' hospital gowns that would facilitate breast feeding.

Don Pedder is also a member of the International Association of Healthcare Textile Managers. This is an association of co-ops throughout North America, with about fifty members. "We all learn from each other," says Pedder, "what's evolving…what's hot in Indianapolis, or Toronto, for example. We work together and look at how to control costs and how to achieve the highest quality. We created a purchasing group to reduce, control and maintain costs in purchases of linens and chemicals. We've started a recyclable bag program and are looking at other economy measures. It's always great to be able to tell our customers that, once again, there's no increase in cost this year."

HLS has long realized that their employees are their greatest assets, according to Don Pedder and Bill Jones. To begin with, transportation to and from work is provided to all employees requiring it.. These buses travel up to 27 miles each way, assuring jobs for most of those who had been working in the three previous HLS plants. A 7,000 square foot cafeteria with an additional outside patio area is a bright and comfortable oasis for mealtime and rest breaks. A large classroom is used for orientation sessions for new employees, as well as for ongoing training sessions for all employees in such subjects as equipment maintenance, operating procedures and OSHA updates. A teacher between shifts has been teaching English as a second language. Every line supervisor and manager at HLS is bilingual and all have been promoted from within. Gary Vanderlinden, vice president of human resources, oversees all training and promotion readiness programs. Does their attention to employee morale work? Well, Bill Jones said that he recently presented bonuses and award plaques to more than 200 employees who did not miss a single day of work all year.

Many HLS employees, more than one hundred, work on-site at their customer hospitals. They interface with facilities managers, directors of materials management, purchasing managers and housekeeping personnel. These service representatives study the usage of materials. They make suggestions to optimize cost savings. They provide awareness training to hospital employees. According to Bill Jones, HLS is a lot more than a big laundry. "We don't just back up to a loading dock and yell 'linen's here!' We have evolved by design into a healthcare service company that is a linen rental provider, a uniform provider, a sterile recovery source and a partner in cost management."

At the giant HLS facility, where it took 2,600 gallons of white paint just to cover the ceiling, 40 tons of steel for the rail superstructure and 10 miles of wiring to handle interior communications, it is obvious that even more work and time has been spent on continuing to build a giant-size reputation for quality and performance

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Faultless Laundry Spending $12 million on New Plant

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Faultless Laundry Co. is spending almost $12 million on a facility to accommodate its growing St. Louis business which has grown from 28 million pounds to 36 million pounds due to a new contract. Faultless serves more than 30 acute hospitals and over 400 retail medical locations in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.