On average, Eisenhower Army Medical Center goes through 2,000 pounds of laundry every weekday. To put that in perspective, the average U.S. household washes, dries and puts away about 80 pounds every week.
"Linen is a backstage service that is critical for a hospital's function," said Leon Green Jr., chief of EAMC's Environmental Services.
The staff in the linen department is responsible for distribution and collection to ensure the linens -- sheets, towels, pillowcases, washcloths, pajamas and scrubs -- are where they need to be, when they need to be there. And, just as importantly, that linens are collected and accounted for.
"These items are leased," said Lizzie Gaither, EAMC's assistant housekeeper, so it's important the staff takes care to keep track of these items.
There are three people from the contractor, AJ Services -- Angela Scott, Percy Moore and Rickey Howard -- who, on a daily basis, pick up and distribute the linens from around the hospital. They also handle receiving clean linen, and at 11 a.m. every weekday, they ship soiled linen to an off-site laundry.
Another important part of their duties is the distribution and intake of scrubs. At a minimum, a set of scrubs costs EAMC $36, said Gaither. So, if a set of scrubs is issued, a set of scrubs must be returned.
In this business, "shrinkage" has nothing to do with washing cotton clothes in hot water. "Shrinkage" is loss of inventory through pilferage.
Two scrub vending systems are being installed to help reduce loss and ensure clinical staff has the proper clothing at a moment's notice. Of the two scrub vending machines, a large one is in the general medicine area and a smaller one is in the OR for when there is a quick turnaround in surgeries.
"We want to optimize our linen management system," said Green. "We have to make sure we can provide better operation to ensure quick turnaround time between [surgical] procedures."
These vending machines allow authorized personnel to "check out" and "check in" the proper scrub tops, bottoms and jackets in the sizes they need, on demand. According to Environmental Services' data, on average each person wearing scrubs wears more than three sets of scrubs each day.
The machines will also help Scott, Moore and Howard in the mornings when they typically see more than 50 people in 15-20 minutes just to exchange scrubs for the day. The vending system will help ease the morning rush and, although that is the busy part of their day, Scott and Moore agreed that the best part of their job is "dealing with people" and knowing they are helping contribute to the mission of the hospital.
But the machines are not like a soda machine, dispensing drinks to whoever puts in the right combination of coins. They are customized to an individual's keycard, said Gaither. When an authorized person swipes his card, the vending machine will allow that person to receive just the scrubs assigned to him in the appropriate size. Should a person enjoy an extra-hearty Thanksgiving meal and need a larger set of scrubs, Gaither will have to change that person's settings in the machine's data base.
There is also a camera to ensure that, when soiled scrubs are being returned, the scrubs, instead of, perhaps, a ratty, old T-shirt from home, are actually being deposited in the return bin.
By employing old-school vending machine technology with a twist of today's technology, EAMC will be better able to manage its costs and reduce loss in a vital area that often goes overlooked. Plus it gives the contractors who implement an important cog in EAMC's mission the flexibility to focus on other areas of their duties.
The vending machines will become fully operational once final programming has been completed and the clinical staff has been trained.