Things are changing in medical facilities. A decade ago, most hospitals and healthcare facilities proudly displayed shiny, waxed vinyl composition tile (VCT), which was cleaned by an in-house staff of janitors.

But now, a new age of flooring, chemicals and equipment has dawned — and with more healthcare facilities and hospitals outsourcing their cleaning, building service contractors are positioning to acquire accounts in this sector.

Driving the trend's success is an up-tick in healthcare facility renovations and new construction. With medical groups sinking millions of dollars into huge new medical centers across the country, the demand for slip-resistant, green flooring is increasing. And, of course, so is demand for the right chemicals and tools to clean those floors.

At the same time, medical facilities remain budget-conscious, and have been cutting corners where they can — resulting in an increase in cleaning services being bid out to BSCs.

"I have definitely noticed a trend in the last year and a half," says Alex Knyazev, president of Star Building Services in Portland, Ore. "There's been a slow increase for the utilization of building service contractors for parts of the hospital, for example, or hospitals just completely outsourcing to contractors."

Cutting Costs

Every market sector has been hit by the recession, but health care has stayed relatively resilient. That doesn't mean, however, that medical facility managers don't want to save money where they can.

Like many customers have in the past few years, medical facilities have cut back a bit on frequencies and high-end product use, Knyazev says.

"There's been a lot of pressure on delivering cost savings and delivering products that are effective but cost less and save them money," he says. "The frequencies of service for floor finishing have also decreased. A lot of customers are doing the minimum recommended services."

However, floor care remains a priority for many medical customers, Knyazev adds — particularly when it comes to safety. Customers have been requesting slip-resistant, static-free finishes; in the end, those can be more cost-effective as well because they're more durable.

"We've been increasingly using them a lot more in almost all of our accounts," Knyazev says.

Since time is money — and labor costs make up a majority or a BSC's price — many healthcare customers want the most efficient cleaning possible, Knyazev says.

Maintenance concerns are causing many medical facilities to choose hard flooring rather than carpeting.

Cleaning and maintenance of hard flooring costs less than that of carpeting, and the life span of hard flooring is usually much longer, so it holds its value well.

New Tools, New Floors

Disinfecting floors happens daily, if not more often, at most medical facilities, and microfiber flat mop systems are typically preferred to clean and disinfect hard floors, says Stewart Wurm, director of the commercial division for Mr. Clean Maintenance Systems, Colton, Calif. In fact, microfiber is so popular that even facilities using traditional string mops have switched those heads from cotton to microfiber, he says.

Not only are tools for daily cleaning changing, but so are the floors themselves.

One of the biggest changes witnessed by Wurm is a trend toward non-waxed floors in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Since Medicare ruled that it won't cover the cost of injuries to patients who slip and fall in a healthcare facility, several flooring manufacturers have created slip-resistant, rolled linoleum-type flooring that does not require wax.

In some respects, the trend is very good, Wurm says. The flooring is safer, and cleaning processes are more environmentally friendly. But it also changes the way floors need to be cleaned.

"That whole flat mop microfiber system that works so well on a waxed floor doesn't work so well on a floor that requires more liquid to emulsify the dirt," Wurm says. "So they had to rethink some of those things."

For the slip-resistant floors, a small autoscrubber is needed to agitate the floors before they are cleaned, Wurm says.

"It's a big change. But the reality is, if they go to one of these floors rather than waxing, the environmental savings is huge," he says. "Because you're not using a butyl-based stripper, you're not using a wax, and that stuff doesn't get emulsified and poured down the drain."

Differences in cleaning processes and frequencies for new types of flooring need to be communicated. It's important to point out to customers that just because stripping and waxing has been eliminated doesn't mean daily cleaning is the same as it used to be. Facility managers who get excited for the cost savings need to know the different maintenance requirements, Wurm says.

"What they're missing is the fact that with the new generation flooring, it requires a little bit of a deeper daily cleaning than does a wax floor," he says.

Greener flooring choices — those made with renewable resources and that have low volatile organic compound (VOC) content — are being used in many new construction buildings such as medical facilities.

"[Medical facility managers] ask for two things: for us to deliver cost savings, and at the same time, to use nontoxic cleaning agents that are the most environmentally friendly," Knyazev says.

Green cleaning products are becoming the norm across the board, especially in facilities that house vulnerable populations such as the chronically ill or injured, who could have mild to severe reactions to traditional chemicals. Star Building Services strives to use Green Seal-certified or other green products whenever possible, and Knyazev says it's helped the company tremendously through increased sales to customers seeking green services.

Compared to most commercial customers, hospitals place a lot of value on proper cleaning because of the high standards they're held to, says Wurm.

"It's a cleanliness issue as far as bacteria is concerned, but there's also a much higher level of government involvement in those hospitals and those facilities," Wurm says. "They value it very highly. If anything they want more — but they always want more for less."

With an increase in new medical facilities and offices expected in the wake of the health care reform recently signed into law, BSCs can bet they'll see even more opportunties to gain accounts in this market.

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Floor Care: Product Showcase