Behind the bustling clinical operations on the frontlines of hospital management is a small yet integral support team the Brigham depends on to run every day. That’s the Linen Department.
“You just can’t run a hospital without linens, said Peter Linck, an area manager in Materials Management. “It’s the bread and butter of clinical support, and so much of it happens behind the scenes.”
Every fresh pillowcase, bedsheet and thermal blanket that patients receive when they’re admitted to the hospital finds its way to them thanks to the Linen team.
Not only is this group imperative to patient care, but it’s also working strategically to save money and increase efficiency by reducing waste.
Like many hospitals across the country, the Brigham rents linens, items like bedsheets, pillowcases, hospital gowns, scrubs and towels, from an outside vendor.
Each day, the vendor delivers trailers of fresh linens to the hospital. The team unloads those trailers and distributes carts to departments throughout the Longwood campus. At the end of a shift, all old linens are returned to be laundered.
Last Spring, the Brigham changed its linen vendor from Angelica to Unitex, requiring the department to alter decades-old practices. With Angelica, the Brigham was credited for all returned unused items. With Unitex, however, everything sent from laundry can only be returned as soiled.
With these new practices, the team began investigating innovative ways to cut costs. They built a “clean pantry” of covered fresh linens that they could redistribute to parts of the hospital in need. They soon realized that certain departments required significantly more linens than others. Instead of paying delivery fees for unnecessary carts, the team started bringing excess linens from one department to other areas experiencing shortages.
Eliminating exchange carts cuts both delivery fees and the total number of trailers sent to the Brigham, promoting the hospital’s green environmental goals and reducing traffic in the Longwood area.
“With our new vendor, we have a very clear idea of the pounds, quantity and types of linens that we are being billed for, said Linck. “That allows us to track usage, measure our availability of clean, covered linens and pinpoint areas where we can work more efficiently. Every week we’re making new changes and tweaks, and it’s really driven up engagement with our employees.”
Recently, the team reached an ambitious twenty percent savings goal, a benchmark they set about six months ago. To celebrate this accomplishment, everyone received gift cards to the Brigham cafeteria.
These savings strategies benefit the Brigham, but have also motivated the team to create more professional development from within, like new leadership roles and opportunities for promotion. Staff can also take initiative on new projects and get creative about how they do their work.
“We’re always looking for ways we can save money, but also make our jobs easier, said Linck. “If we can make our day-to-day tasks more meaningful, our staff are happier and more dedicated to their work.”
While they’ve already made great strides, the team continues to set more ambitious savings goals, aiming to cut future spending by an additional ten percent.
Elaine Weiswasser, linen manager in Materials Management, emphasized that even before these recent achievements, the Linen team has always worked tirelessly to maintain hospital operations.
“Everyone on the Linen team is truly dedicated to making sure that our patients have everything they need to make their stay here as comfortable as possible,” said Weiswasser. “Their goal has always been to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.”