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 360-647-2974

Isabelle Dills, The Bellingham Herald