Like most large facilities, Kendal at Hanover — a continuing care retirement community in Hanover, N.H. — Environmental Services department devotes considerable time to laundry. The facility services 250 residential living apartments, an 85-bed health center including assisted living, long-term care, and Alzheimer's/dementia unit and a children's day care.  The department handles all the wash for the health center residents, bath and bed linens for the residential living apartments and table linens for the dining services department.

Of the 29-person staff, three full-time employees focus solely on laundry. "They work Monday through Friday and process everything — all the linens for the independent living areas, the sheets, bed pads, you name it. It adds up to anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of laundry a day," says Director of Environmental Services JoAnn Coulombe, REH.

The department also has a part-time employee that comes in on weekends to handle laundry generated from the facility's health center, in addition to any emergency situations. This constant presence helps manage the growing pile of dirty linens, but it doesn't solve some of the common challenges associated with laundry.

Overcoming Obstacles

Even with a staff dedicated specifically to the laundry needs at Kendal, the variety and quantity of linens coming from different areas of the facility has caused inventory problems for Coulombe in years past.

Laundry workers were plagued by staff concerns regarding minimal stock, distressed or misused linens and missing resident clothing.

"Misuse resulted in a quick deterioration of fabrics and costly replacements," says Coulombe, who recognized that change was necessary.  It was discovered that linens weren't missing, but being misplaced and resident attire was never making its way down to laundry.

"Linens would be taken from stock areas and later found in residence quarters – unused," says Coulombe. "In the meantime, additional stock was taken and complaints would come in that supplies were lacking."

Despite having four staff members dedicated to laundry, the department could not accommodate the dirty laundry being generated.  In response to these challenges, Coulombe developed a new position: laundry coordinator.

"My laundry coordinator is very well organized and oversees the whole linen process," she says. "The coordinator deals with any departmental/staff concerns and maintains a strict inventory of what linens are coming in and what is going out."

To guarantee each department receives proper linen quantities, each area of the facility is assigned a specific color code. For example, Kendal at Hanover features tan linens in the long-term care area, green in assisted living, yellow in the dementia unit and white in the apartments. Personal apparel is also labeled and detailed.

"Now, if we have misplaced laundry, we know where it is missing from," says Coulombe. "We track what we receive from each area and what we give back. It gives us much better control and it guarantees the departments have what they need on hand."

She adds that colored linens get washed together, folded and shelved together by department, type of linen and size. Although the laundering of colored fabrics doesn't thwart misuse, it has made for easy inventory tracking and distribution of all linens. As workers sort the linens, they also identify distressed, tattered or torn fabrics in need of replacement.

"As linens are being folded, weathered fabrics are removed from circulation and documented immediately for future reorders," says Coulombe. "Discarded towels are then cut up into rags for reuse by the environmental services department."

Push For Green

Reuse of tattered linens is just a small example of how the laundry department contributes to the overall green mission at Kendal at Hanover. A more substantial contribution comes in the form of reduced energy, water and chemical consumption, thanks to the use of ozone equipment.

Ozone systems reportedly increase textile life, reduce natural gas and have quicker fill rates, shorter wash cycles and shorter dry times — all of which save valuable budget dollars. The equipment can also reduce the need for bleach, which is ideal since Kendal at Hanover features various colored linens. (See "What Is Ozone Laundry?" below for more information on ozone.)

According to Coulombe, the ozone equipment doesn't require the use of as many chemicals and detergents when laundering, which she says also contributes to the prolonged life of fabrics. Linens now last an average of 100 washes.

"At Kendal at Hanover, we are constantly working with the staff to keep quality where it belongs — which is very high — while being as green as we can," says Coulombe.  

What Is Ozone Laundry?

Ozone laundry technology uses electricity and oxygen in a unique way to replace many of the chemicals normally used in a traditional washing process.

When oxygen (O2) passes through electricity, its molecules split into atoms and a third oxygen atom is added, creating O3, better known as ozone. When infused with water, ozone becomes an effective sanitizer, disinfectant and deodorizer that is safe for people and the planet.

That ozone is then added to the wash wheel where its electrical and chemical charge combines with the washing solution to dissolve soil on contact. The technology minimizes the need for soaps and detergents and the electrical charge leaves fabrics fresh and vibrant.

Because it is also most successful when combined with cold water, ozone technology has been known to save up to 80 percent of water heating/energy costs.