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Computer-assisted environmental services: how applying information management technology to housekeeping, maintenance and laundry can enhance performance.

As long-term care advances into managed care and other financing changes, we will be responsible for providing the same high-quality care we currently give but with smaller operating budgets. One way we can "get the edge back" is to develop accountable, organized, statistic-based management programs for our environmental services departments. This means customizing each department, such as Housekeeping, Maintenance or Laundry, to its optimal operating limits while providing the data-based information that is key to fiscal-year and long-range financial planning. Once this information has been gathered, organized and properly applied, environmental services will be on the road to the future.

Here, in alphabetical order, are factors to take into account:


Listen to your staff. Encourage them to grow and support them in doing so. An open dialogue lets your staff know up front that they will be held accountable for their particular positions. This is monitored in our system by weekly work schedules and performance standards checks generated by the software. Providing your staff with an accountable weekly work task will not only achieve your goals, but also will increase your employees' sense of self-worth through their measurable weekly achievements.


Purchasing a computer system for your environmental services is a relatively small investment when you consider the potential timesaving and organizational benefits. One software program that I have used extensively to perform equipment management and departmental organization is the Lotus Approach 3.0 relational database, which ties in with the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet. This is an easy-to-learn program that will meet most of your data management needs - I have used it to custom-build the information management system I describe throughout this article. Or you may choose to purchase software designed for plant maintenance and engineering, such as Chief Advantage from Maintenance Automation Corporation of Hallandale Beach, FL, or for housekeeping and/or laundry, such as Environmental Software from Huntington Laboratories, Inc., Huntington, IN. No one program that I am aware of, other than the one I designed for our facility, covers all three departments.


Having contracted vendors bidding against each other every time a contractual renewal comes up is only one small facet of outsourcing. A vendor can be a good source of information and support, but never rely on your vendor to provide you with your only means of cost accounting. It is up to you, for example, to balance the costs of a service contract plus external repairs for a piece of equipment versus your organization's internal capabilities and costs. Knowing "at the touch of a button" where your costs are in each environmental department at any given time is the power you need for managing your accounts. In our system we can call up pricing information immediately for each vendor, as well as get the vendor's pricing history over time for comparison.

Project Management

Managing multiple projects can be a difficult task, but applying some basic management principles can ease this process. For example, an accounting for "PF&D" can be added to your productive hours calculations ("PF&D" being Personal time [breaks, restroom stops, etc.], Fatigue [physical and mental stress, etc.] and unavoidable Delays [random interruptions, instruction time, pre-job preparations, quality assurance inspections]). Allowance factors for these can be determined by use of time study handbooks (e.g., those authored by C. L. Smith, Jr.) or by historical data collection and work sampling. Using a handwritten or computer-generated Gantt chart (which lays out a time line for a project) can aid you in meeting your deadlines and goals of cost containment and control.

Risk Management

Incorporating into your preventive maintenance programs a weekly systematic approach to inspecting physical plant needs, environmental surroundings and medical devices will increase your organization's awareness of safety and reduce the risk of injury. Example: Weekly physical inspection of all patient lift equipment includes observation of all friction and wear points and possible metal fatigue, as well as plans for continued safe operation when the equipment is pulled out of service for immediate repair. A device's repair history can be continually updated and tracked on-line to alert you when reinspection or testing might be needed.

Taking Stock, which incorporates:

Capital Equipment Procurement. This process is essentially the art of knowing whether to replace or repair. A product's life-cycle cost, including total operating run times, equipment repair records and accumulated repair costs, versus replacement cost over the product's estimated payback period - all this information can and should be collected for your analysis through your maintenance management programs.

Maintenance Cost-Effectiveness. One method I've used for this has been employed for some time now in the manufacturing industry: It's called RAV (Replacement Asset Value). For example, if your organization was established in 1960, review all your accumulated physical assets since then and ask, what would their replacement costs be for 1998? (You may use your insured value of assets for this calculation.) Multiply the total by 1 to 1.5%. This would be your estimated equipment repair or replacement expense per year, to include: building repairs, capital repairs, equipment repairs and cost of maintenance supplies and services. If your actual costs are within this estimated range, you are operating efficiently. If not, reevaluate your maintenance management program and figure out why you are spending so much - inefficiency? old equipment needing replacement? - and make necessary adjustments. A good software program will help you do this accurately and in detail.

Finally, software can help you organize and integrate your environmental service departments (see "Departmental Organization," below).

RELATED ARTICLE: Departmental Organization

For optimal customer service and coordination of information, it is best to have one general manager for all three environmental support service departments - housekeeping, maintenance and laundry - though each would still have its own specific manager. The general manager would be able to monitor and devise reports based on specific pieces of information used by each department, as follows:


* Computer-aided database room management

* 52-week rotational floor care program

* Written work performance standards

* Computer-aided product specification files

* Recorded product-testing program

* Product utilization training program

* Wheelchair assignment program

* Admissions and discharge programs

* Quality assurance management programs

* Universal precautions programs

* Infection-control procedures

* Risk management systems

* Procurement program

* Inventory control programs


* Computer-aided database management program

* Written work performance programs

* Computer-aided product specification files

* Inventory-control programs

* Infection-control procedures

* Universal precautions programs

* Detergent cost-effectiveness analysis

* Laundry process ergonomics analysis

* Risk management systems

* Procurement program

Plant Operations

* Reliability base management programs (to assure equipment reliability or safe and continued usage)

* Computer-aided predictive maintenance programs (measuring equipment before it fails)

* Computer-aided equipment database files

* Computer-aided repair procedure cards

* Daily generated repair requisitions

* Written work performance programs

* Computer-aided product specification files

* Procurement management programs

* Risk management systems

* Computer-aided vendor resource index

* Computer-aided master projects programs (spreadsheets to automatically calculate labor hours, material cost, priority, start dates and lead times)

* Utility monitoring systems

* Computer-aided utilities analysis

* Capital equipment purchasing programs

* Computer-aided fiscal year planning programs.

Glen Holsather

Glen Holsather is plant operations director for the Elim Home, Princeton, MN. For further information, (612) 389-1171.
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Article Details
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Author:Holsather, Glen
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Aug 1, 1998
Previous Article:Energy savings: case study.
Next Article:Developing a facility maintenance budget.

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