Labor Crisis, Consumer Behavior Shifts Temper Healthcare Laundry Specialists’ Recovery

ALEXANDRIA, VA — May 5, 2021, 2021 — Healthcare laundry operators and suppliers have faced enormous challenges in the 14 months since COVID-19 turned the economy upside-down. Recovery has progressed, but many operators on TRSA’s April 27 Healthcare Virtual Roundtable said their volume hasn’t returned to 2019 levels and processing what’s back is difficult due to labor shortages.

Participants in the session, which included 60-plus operators and suppliers for two hours of talks, cited a variety of reasons hospital accounts are producing less than pre-pandemic revenue, including:

  • Elective surgeries continue to be postponed, although they are expected to reach prior levels through second quarter 2021.
  • Many such surgeries and other procedures that otherwise might have been performed in hospitals have shifted to outpatient or urgent-care centers. Telemedicine also has accelerated amid COVID-19 concerns.
  • Hospital emergency rooms (ERs) aren’t as busy because schools are closed and students aren’t as active, reducing accidents. Less ER activity translates to fewer hospital admissions.

How much more will these trends affect hospital laundry specialists, who weathered linen volume declines from hospitals and nursing homes on average from 10%-20% during the pandemic? Technology, comfort and cost control will continue to drive growth in outpatient care, one Roundtable participant said, but the aging of nearly 70 million baby boomers means that hospitals will continue to care for many chronically ill people.

Enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus payments are viewed as disincentivizing paid work. This may moderate in the United States in September when benefits are slated to expire, said Kevin Schwalb, TRSA’s Vice President of Government Relations. He co-moderated the roundtable with Director of Membership & Industry Outreach Ken Koepper.

Government officials suggest paying people more; this fails to consider how tight profit margins and rigorous competition make it nearly impossible to remain solvent, Schwalb observed.

Roundtable attendees discussed a range of responses including:

  • Work with rehab organizations seeking to provide ex-offenders with “second chance” opportunities
  • Hire interns from local community colleges who could become full time employees
  • Emphasize stability and career growth opportunities in the industry
  • Note in recruiting the environmental benefits of reusable textiles to attract candidates looking for a “green” opportunity out of high school or college

An appeal in the same vein as the latter could be made to customers in positioning reusables against disposables. Each COVID patient requires 30 or more isolation gown changes per staff, per shift. Disposable gowns were in short supply as the pandemic began and demand for reusables skyrocketed. Now COVID caseloads have stabilized, disposables’ supply has returned and hospitals have reverted to form in ordering them.

To reform such practices for the long haul, ideas shared at the Roundtable included:

  • Make the case for reusables in nursing schools and other healthcare educational settings
  • Push for regulation such as California’s mandated 50-50 stockpiling of reusable and disposable PPE, enacted with TRSA’s support
  • Ads with images that emphasize the environmental and supply-chain benefits of reusables, such as nurses clad in garbage bags due to disposable PPE shortages

Other issues discussed included using TRSA’s Hygienically Clean standard to ensure cleanliness and hygiene. Samlane Ketevong, TRSA’s recently hired senior director of certification and accreditation, gave attendees a brief overview of the progress of the program, which has already certified roughly 150 healthcare plants worldwide, with eight new companies in the process of certifying in ’21. Among these are Bates Troy Inc., Alsco Uniforms, HandCraft, NOVO Healthcare, Sohn Linen and others. Readers with an interest in Hygienically Clean certification may contact Ketevong at

Additional TRSA Roundtables are slated for Food and Beverage/Hospitality from 1-3 p.m. EST on May 12 and an Industrial Roundtable from 1-3 p.m. EST on June 8.  Visit for more information.

Posted May 5, 2021

Source: TRSA