December 17, 2019

At Cleveland Clinic, laundry is a 18-million-pound problem. Here's its innovative solution.

Daily Briefing

    Through a partnership with Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, a nonprofit, worker-owned cooperative, Cleveland Clinic was able to increase the cleanliness of its linens and boost job opportunities in surrounding communities, Harris Meyer reports for Modern Healthcare.

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    The cooperative

    About two years ago, Cleveland Clinic noticed a drop in the quality of the linens it got back from its laundry company, Meyer reports. Of the 18 million pounds of linens the clinic had washed each year, they were getting only half of what was necessary to keep up with patient volume, according to Meyer.

    To get to the root of the issue, about a year ago, Cleveland Clinic decided to make a change and find a new organization to handle its laundry.  

    In 2018, Cleveland Clinic entered a contract with Evergreen Cooperative Laundry to clean the linens for all 36 Cleveland Clinic care sites. Cleveland Clinic entered the contract with two "twin goals": to improve the quality of its laundry services and provide locals with decent-paying jobs with benefits, Meyer reports.

    Cleveland Clinic invested into renovating the old 80,000 square-foot Sodexo facility and installing new laundry equipment that conserved water and energy, Meyer reports. Evergreen was left in charge of running laundry operations.

    The new facility is air conditioned, automated, and clean, according to Meyer, and shows no signs of visible lint floating through the air that could endanger the workers' health.

    The laundry machines are also designed to prevent laundry workers from having to lift items above shoulder height or bend over. The machines have displays that show workers' production levels with red, yellow, and green color codes.

    The cooperative laundry initiative also offers employees a home-ownership program, which allows qualified workers to purchase a three-bedroom home with a mortgage of $400 or less per month, and is paid off within five years, Meyer reports. Employees also receive savings and checking accounts, financial literacy training, and access to a small-dollar loan program.

    According to Tymika Thomas, supervisor of the surgical pack department who started working at Evergreen in 2017, the top positions pay workers between $14 and $16 per hour.

    Did Cleveland meet its twin goals?

    The results showed that Cleveland Clinic is well on its way to meeting its "twin goals," Meyer reports.

    Cleveland Clinic's average "fill rate" on clean linen increased to an average of 100% since the start of the initiative, and Evergreen's full-time staff tripled to almost 150 employees, many of whom previously served time in prison and might have encountered difficulty finding employment, Meyer reports.

    The Evergreen and Cleveland Clinic are now considering expanding the laundering service to other customers, Meyer reports. In addition, the clinic is eyeing expanding the cooperative's services to include fresh produce for the health system's food service as well as housekeeping and janitorial services.

    The trend

    According to Meyer, hospital systems have become more interested in cooperative laundry models amid commercial laundry industry changes.

    Gerry Knotek, Cleveland Clinic's senior director of linen and laundry, said, "Large laundry providers didn't want to invest and they were closing facilities." By contrast, the "partnership gives us a reliable supply, better control of inventory, and we're getting the linen we need and on time."

    The initiative's focus on helping local residents is also part of a growing national trend among health systems to build wealth in their surrounding communities by creating jobs, therefore improving the overall health of the community, Meyer reports. And after seeing the success of Cleveland Clinic's partnership with Evergreen, health systems around the country are considering modeling their laundry services after the initiative, according to David Zuckerman, director for the Democracy Collaborative's Healthcare Anchor Network, which helped establish the Evergreen Cooperatives.

    According to Evergreen CEO John McMicken, other health systems considering the model include Rush University Medical Center and other Chicago systems, such as Lurie Children's Hospital and Sinai Health System. The Chicago facilities are part of West Side United, an organization that helps hospitals collaborate to build up surrounding communities.

    Charlie Jolie, a spokesperson for Rush, said, "The Rush System, along with other hospitals in West Side United, are currently exploring how some portion of the millions of pounds of laundry our hospitals generate could be processed on the West Side." He added, "That's a lot of jobs, and every single new job makes West Side communities healthier" (Meyer, Modern Healthcare, 12/14).

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