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Hospital 125th: Washing undergoes complete revolution

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The hospital’s laundry is a big success story and it is now the country’s largest district health board joint venture.

Established on the Palmerston North Hospital site 110 years ago, the laundry has morphed into a highly mechanised business of international standard.
From 1908 to 1990 the laundry was managed by hospital staff and from 1990 it was managed by NZTS Health Systems under contract.

In August 2002, Taranaki DHB, which was processing laundry for Whanganui DHB at the time, sent its laundry to be processed at MidCentral – and Allied Laundry was born. The potential for greater economies of scale was realised as Taranaki and Whanganui were followed within a few months by Hawke’s Bay DHB, and in February 2003 by Wairarapa DHB.  At this time Mark Mabbett was brought in to oversee the company.
In 2015, Hutt DHB joined and finally, in March 2016, Capital and Coast DHB completed the buy-in from all seven DHBs south of the line stretching from Urenui in the west, to Waiouru, to Wairoa in the east.
Mark says: “We are doing twice the amount we did 15 years ago and we are far more automated.  All machinery is state-of-the-art and imported from Germany. It is very high speed, allowing us to process 60,000 pieces a day or 90 tonnes a week. This means in simpler terms, for example, 14 sheets a minute, washed, pressed and folded.
“In December 2015, we invested $5 million in new machinery including a second continuous batch washer (CBW) line with press, shuttle and four driers. The CBWs each have 13 pockets, which operate like single washing machines. This effectively doubled our plant size and we had to take on more staff. So now we have about 100 staff, including those based in the hospitals. Their job is to distribute the linen around the wards and theatres. In total Allied Laundry services around 700 individual locations each day.”
Allied Laundry operates from 5am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Energy recycling plays a large part in its operations.
Heat from the wastewater from the washing machines is reclaimed and used to heat incoming water. There are smart controls on the dryers to allow for heat recovery, and the presses have been improved so that can push out more water from the washing. Some dryers are gas fired instead of steam and this reduces energy losses. The old ironers have been replaced with modern ones. One of these is direct fired so reliance on steam is reduced.
Energy costs are significant with around $34,000 spent per month on electricity, steam, gas and water.
Mark says: “Our capacity is around 100 tonnes per week, and we are at 90. We have no plans to grow as we have reached the geographical limits of what is feasible. Future changes in technology are where we can improve the business but at the moment we are at peak performance by international standards.”
Allied Laundry’s revenue is around $10.6 million, with MidCentral contributing $2.1m of this for its laundry services. Any surplus earned by the company is returned to DHBs by way of a dividend.
Mark says he sometimes gets calls from hospital staff asking if he can retrieve items left in scrubs’ pockets. “If only they knew the reality of this business. We process 2000 pairs of scrubs (4000 individual pieces) per day. There’s no chance of finding items in pockets. They’re history.”
- Written by Paula McCool

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