Bellingham-based laundry provides medical linen throughout state

Each week The Bellingham Herald takes a close look at a business or construction project. This week: Northwest Health Care Linen.

What it is: Northwest Health Care Linen is a laundry facility committed to providing medical linen for hospitals and clinics.

Most of the linens are owned by the company and rented to the medical facilities. The company buys about $130,000 to $140,000 worth of new linen each month, and processes about 12.5 million pounds of linen each year, said Bill Akers, vice president of customer relations.

When the linen comes in to be laundered, it is sorted by sheets, towels, patient gowns, scrubs, etc., he said.

Each type of linen is put into separate bags. Then, through an automated system, the bags are loaded into machines for washing and drying. Once the linens are dried, machines are used to iron and fold them.

Northwest Health Care Linen was recently accredited by the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council. Standards for accreditation cover the linen-processing cycle, “from handling and transporting soiled healthcare textiles, to in-plant processing and delivery back to the customer,” according to the council’s website.

The accreditation serves as a seal of approval for providing hygienically clean textiles to health-care customers.

Ownership: James Hall.

Employees: The company employs about 110 people.

How it started: Hall began Northwest Health Care Linen in 1992 following his ownership of a large, extended-care facility in Bellingham. From his own experience of running a health-care facility, as well as talking to other medical providers, Hall saw a need for an outside, reliable laundry service specializing in medical linen, Akers said.

At first, the company only served some hospitals in Skagit County and one large clinic group in Everett. But the company grew by word-of-mouth, and once it started working with outpatient centers, it “really took off,” Akers said.

The company experienced a challenging period in August 2006. Federal agents arrested 26 Mexican nationals working at the company on suspicion of being in the country illegally. No criminal charges were filed and no fines were levied against the company, said Lorie Dankers, public affairs officer at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The company worked with ICE and came into compliance, Dankers said.

The company now works with multiple medical facilities west of the Cascades, including medical centers in Seattle, Bellevue, Olympia and Kitsap Peninsula. In Bellingham, Northwest Health Care Linen provides linen for several facilities, including Pacific Rim Outpatient Surgery Center, Mt. Baker Imaging and Mt. Baker Kidney Center.

Reuse, Recycle: Almost all of the linens that are no longer used by Northwest Health Care Linen go to hospitals as a back-up supply in case of a disaster. All hospitals must be prepared for a disaster and must have about three to four days of supplies on hand, Akers said.

About 99 percent of the linens no longer used by the company are boxed up, labeled and delivered to those hospitals, he said. That is a way of recycling the linen and keeping it in use, he said.

Recently, Northwest Health Care Linen began recycling plastic bags used to carry the linens, Akers said. “We used to fill a massive Dumpster with plastic bags,” he said. Last year, the company’s plant manager, Mike Alexander, found an outfit called Super Link Plastic Inc. that recycles all types of plastic waste. Northwest Health Care Linen now recycles more than 100 tons of plastic each year, Akers said.

Northwest Health Care Linen 4123 Strider Loop Road Bellingham 1-800-788-1851 Nwlinen.com

Isabelle Dills, The Bellingham Herald

Northwest Health Care Linen Receives Healthcare Laundry Accreditation

Bellingham, WA — June 7, 2010 — Northwest Health Care Linen, the comprehensive health care linen service provider for customers in the Puget Sound region since 1992, announces its recent accreditation from the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC). This accreditation serves as a seal of approval for providing hygienically clean textiles to health care customers.

“When you go into a health care facility as a patient, cleanliness is critically important to stopping the spread of bacteria,” said James Hall, CEO of Northwest Health Care Linen. “In this industry, hospitals have no way to measure what you’re doing, apart from the end-product delivered. That’s what this accreditation looks at: how you provide the sanitary laundry that aids in the prevention of bacteria spread and infection.”

The HLAC accreditation process is a compressive review, and it includes an evaluation of written documents, a walk-through and inspection of the facility, employee and management interviews, and more. The HLAC standards focus on a number of aspects of the laundry, with the ultimate goal of protecting clean textiles from soiled textiles at all times during the processing. This protection is a vital component of the accreditation.

“This accreditation gives us a high level of credibility in the industry, setting us apart from those who aren’t currently accredited or who, frankly, aren’t able to meet these high standards,” said Hall.

The HLAC is an independent, non-profit organization formed for the purpose of inspecting and accrediting facilities that process health care textiles for hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities. HLAC accreditation is valid for three years. After that time, a laundry must be re-inspected to remain accredited. While this accreditation is not currently required of laundry companies serving health care facilities, it will be in the future.

“We voluntarily took the initiative to put ourselves under this microscope now to show those in the Puget Sound region that we are already adhering to these high standards of cleanliness and infection control,” said Hall.

In 2002, Northwest Health Care Linen’s Bellingham facility underwent a significant remodel, vastly improving its ability to serve clients in the Puget Sound region. The company’s space was tripled in size, allowing it to process laundry with greater efficiency. Today, Northwest Health Care Linen’s state-of-the-art technology saves energy by reclaiming wastewater heat, and the company also recycles much of the water used during this process to further reduce energy costs. In addition, the company recently began working with a recycler in Florida that accepts all of Northwest Health Care Linen’s plastic soiled linen bags. This move allowed the company to reduce it’s solid waste stream by 80%.

Northwest Health Care Linen’s service area stretches from Bellingham to Olympia, in facilities varying from single provider practices and surgery centers, to large clinic systems and hospitals. In Whatcom County, the company serves both Pacific Rim Surgery Center and Mount Baker Imaging, as well as several other smaller healthcare providers.

Northwest Health Care Linen is one of four laundries to receive accreditation by the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council in Washington State. It is the only one of its kind in the state north of Pierce County to receive this accreditation. For more information on Northwest Health Care Linen, call 360.647.2974 or visit http://nwlinen.com.

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