R&D Opportunities
Research partnership challenges staff and helps hospital stock up on high-tech cleaning tools

Lee Ann Tencate, director of building services for Mercy General Health Partners in Muskegon, Mich., recently found a way to expand her staff’s horizons and turn her operations into a high-tech training ground at little to no cost. The idea? A product research committee.

One of her cleaning product suppliers, Geerpres, which is located in Muskegon, approached Tencate with the idea of becoming a research and development partner for the company last fall. Her staff would test new cleaning-related products and meet with the Geerpres representatives once a month to discuss application, ease of use and other aspects of new items, then offer their own suggestions for new cleaning products.

At the same time that her supplier approached her with this idea, Tencate was meeting with employees to discuss their annual satisfaction review. One question she asked each worker was which of the areas covered in the review she could improve upon for them. A handful of employees had mentioned the question, “Do you have an opportunity to learn and grow where you work?”

Tencate quickly realized that she could offer this group of employees an opportunity to expand their horizons by asking them to take part in the research team she was creating. The staff members selected were very excited about the opportunity and have enjoyed testing new products thus far, she says. In fact, some are reluctant to pass along the new tools because they enjoy using them so much.

Among the technology Tencate’s group has tested are new mopping systems and microfiber products. She says workers have discovered which applications are most appropriate for their new tools. They then fill out assessments regarding the tools’ benefits and drawbacks and share their discoveries with Geerpres.

Word of the research committee has spread to the executives at Mercy General and to others in the hospital’s parent network, Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic-based healthcare networks in the U.S. In fact, Tencate’s staff will present information regarding their housekeeping research committee at a Trinity annual gathering later this year as part of an idea-swapping session the network holds.

“It’s rare that they would have housekeeping innovations to share when most of the ideas are related to new medical technology and patient care techniques, but our hospital realizes that we are bringing innovation to an area typically underestimated,” says Tencate.

And that innovation is paying off. Mercy General is building a new emergency care center and Tencate says she is much more confident with bringing in new surface materials because she knows she now has the technology necessary to assure her staff can keep it clean. Whether facing situations where there is little time to clean, or where surfaces can’t have too much moisture on them, Tencate now has the tools to address these cleaning needs.

As for staff morale, Tencate says the committee has been a great way to broaden employee horizons at little cost to the organization. And the workers like some tools enough that the hospital may purchase more for other staff members.

To learn more about working with a supplier to research new tools, contact Tencate at 231-739-3938 or ask your suppliers if they are interested in such a concept.

A Lesson from
Sports-minded Service Providers

Customer traffic at the Metropolitan Milwaukee YMCAs does not stop. Open 5 a.m.to 10 p.m on most days, housekeeping crews face the challenge of cleaning around, and preparing for, the busiest times of the day.

“We have to keep things looking good, yet stay out of the way [of customers],” says Bob Nelson, senior property director for the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.

The housekeeping staff spot-cleans throughout the day, cleaning up after the morning, noon and prime-time rushes. During the busy times, Nelson says staff works to keep up with towel pick-up, laundry and such light cleaning as wiping down messy sink areas.

“We have so many high-maintenance wet areas like showers and pools that other commercial properties don’t have to deal with,” he says. During open hours, crews check wet areas, pick up towels and other light cleaning.

“At night, that is when we get down and dirty,” Nelson says. “We do the heavy cleaning and disinfecting at that time.”

The Milwaukee YMCAs are closed just three days out of the year, so the housekeeping staff gets very little downtime for project work.

“We jump all over that time,” Nelson says. “When everyone else is off celebrating, we’re here working.”

Getting Guests to Go Green

As hotels join the movement toward environmentally friendly cleaning, customers sometimes are not as eager to save the planet as managers might expect.

The housekeeping crew at the Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa in Houston allows guests to choose whether or not they want their sheets and towels washed daily. The staff leaves cards in guests’ rooms asking them to participate in the program.

“We have a 15 to 20 percent participation rate, which is not as high as I would like,” says Laura Terrell, director of purchasing and environmental efforts at the hotel. “When they’re paying about $295 a night, people get a little defensive when you say you’re not going to wash the sheets.”

Terrell says the Houstonian tries to get more guests involved in earth-minded programs with events such as an Earth Day celebration and Clean Air Month. “We hope these events will attract people who are more environmentally aware and want to stay somewhere that is more environmentally aware.”
Education Facilities

What One District Learned About Handling Mold

Chavez Elementary School in Madison, Wis., is the first new grade school in the district in 30 years. It opened its doors to students in the Fall of 2001 only to close its doors a few months later. The reason: A mold outbreak caused by heavy moisture seepage during construction.

The first sign of a problem was a steady stream of upper respiratory complaints from teachers. The first steps custodial staff took was to look for residual construction dust, but they found the levels were normal for a new building, as was the off-gassing of any new materials. Next they checked to make sure the air-handling system was properly working, even running it at full capacity, non-stop for a lengthy time. Still there were complaints. Finally the staff tested areas of the building for mold spores and found elevated counts.

Doug Pearson, director of building services, says this series of steps is the district’s standard procedure for checking indoor air quality problems in a school. He suggests other school districts create their own policies based on standards available at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and at the Minnesota Department of Health Web sites.

One thing Pearson says schools need to be prepared for is educating parents and the community regarding mold outbreaks. He says staff spent a lot of time visiting other schools in the district to quelch fears that mold could be in those facilities as well, and explained the rarity of so-called “toxic” mold. He advises schools that do have a problem to provide regularly updated information on their Web sites and to circulate information in the community regarding the situation.

More information on how Chavez Elementary handled the outbreak.

Fast Fact:

The median U.S. school district employs:

  • 12 custodial FTEs
  • 4 maintenance FTEs
  • 2 grounds FTEs

Source: U.S. Department of Education