Automated equipment handles 6.5 million pounds of dirty laundry a year
You hear the rumble of machinery and detect the aroma of cleaning products well before you actually enter the Linen Services Department, otherwise called ‘the Laundry,’ located beneath the old Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Here more than 60 employees oversee the massive pieces of equipment that sort, wash, dry, iron and fold bed linens, gowns, scrubs, towels and other linens that keep the giant hospital system rolling. In addition to the hospital, linen supplies go out by truck to all Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care health centers, Urgent Care Center and Women’s & Infants Specialty Health clinics throughout Dallas County. The department also provides linens to the specialty clinics in the Outpatient Clinic building.
Each day, some 5,250 bed sheets are washed and ironed to meet the needs of the more than 800 inpatients treated daily at Parkland, as well as other facilities in the hospital system. Each year Linen Services processes 6.5 million pounds of supplies in order to provide clean linens for the million-plus patient visits provided by Parkland.
“Our biggest challenge is balancing the need to work quickly while also maintaining quality. We have to be extremely fast, making sure that everything is clean and ready to distribute on time while also ensuring cleanliness and safety for all our patients,” said Jay Dyck, Linen Services Director at Parkland.
The process is mostly automated, using monster washing machines that have as many as 14 chambers, each with a different task for cleaning products; dryers that accommodate 200-pound loads, and a recycling system that re-uses about 10 million gallons of water a year, saving not only water but energy since the recycling takes place while the water is still hot.
But not every task is automated.
In one tiny corner of the enormous operation is the small room where Phiefee Brooks carefully makes sure that no garment or piece of linen goes to waste. Brooks is a Linen Inspection and Repair Technician at Parkland. In the old days her job title was seamstress. There used to be three employees working in her job. Now she is the only one.
Looking around at the seemingly random piles of gowns, sheets, blankets and other linens in her workroom, along with three sewing machines and a serger, she says firmly, “I know exactly where everything is and what I’m supposed to do with each item.”
“It’s my job to determine if a cloth or gown can be repaired or whether it needs to be thrown out,” Brooks said. “If it can be mended, I patch, sew or cut it so that it can be used again.”
Brooks has been sewing and mending Parkland garments and linens for nearly 26 years. For her, working at Parkland is a family tradition; two of her sisters also are longtime Parkland employees. One sister, Kathie Brooks, is a Lead Technician in Environmental Services, and the other, Willie Cofer, is a clerk supervisor in Radiology.
Brooks said she began working at Parkland in housekeeping but made it known that she loved to sew. Eventually she was assigned to the repair area of Linen Services. She said she has loved sewing since she was in high school.
“I enjoy putting things together and making sure nothing is wasted,” she said. If something can no longer be worn or used in a patient’s room, it may become one of the many tens of thousands of rags used to clean the hospital and clinics.
Not only does she repair mountains of linens that reach her sewing room every year, but on occasion she has been asked to create a custom-made article. When conventional hospital gowns do not fit properly, Brooks crafts a gown to fit. She makes covers for the huge carts used to carry soiled and clean laundry and linen between the Linen Services Department and the new Parkland hospital. She even sewed the first anti-contamination curtains that hung outside the old Parkland emergency room entrance many years ago.
On occasion Brooks has even stepped in to repair staff members’ ripped clothing so they don’t have to go home to change and can return to work as soon as possible.
“But my number one concern is the patient,” Brooks said. “The way I look at it, if I wouldn’t want to lay on something that is torn or not looking good, why should someone else?”
Dyck said Brooks has always been an asset to the department.
“Phiefee’s work for our department is invaluable,” Dyck said. “She is extremely thorough in sifting through the enormous volume of linen to determine what can be salvaged and repaired, and then taking care to reclaim those items.”
For more information about Parkland, please visit www.parklandhospital.com.