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Iowa Health launches a centralized laundry facility that saves both water and money.

When historic floods ravaged parts of Iowa this summer, Iowa Health System's new centralized eco-friendly laundry facility got its first great test.

"The laundry definitely was operating on an emergency status, and we were delivering products at all times," says Daniel McDow, chief operating officer for consolidated services for the 11-hospital system based in Des Moines. "But that was our job. As I told my boss, 'If we do this right, it should be uneventful.'"

And it was. Aside from one three-hour- late delivery, the facility successfully tackled countless extra loads as the health system aided flood victims from Cedar Rapids, where most hospitals closed. But beyond the facility's performance in a crisis situation, what may be even more impressive is the bottom line: Hospital leadership expects the laundry facility to save the organization a minimum of $5 million over 15 years.

Iowa Health opened the facility, Midwest Healthcare Textile Services, last June in a partnership with Aramark Healthcare. The new plant's equipment uses two fewer gallons of water per pound of laundry than the individual plants it replaced, resulting in a savings of more than 8 million gallons a year. In addition, the system will realize savings generated by using less energy and standardizing scrubs and linens for all of the system's hospitals.

The facility was first conceptualized two years ago when three of Iowa Health's individual laundry plants needed major renovations. Hospital leadership met with Aramark, which ran the three outdated facilities, and negotiated a 15-year management deal for a new centralized operation. In exchange, Aramark fronted the $10 million capital to build the facility.

When the idea to build a centralized laundry facility originated, making it environmentally friendly was not a priority, says president and CEO Bill Leaver. But once the topic was introduced, leadership quickly jumped on board.

"We are a pretty significant organization in Iowa, and I think we have some responsibility to be mindful of our planet and how we use resources and to be as eco-friendly as we can be," he says.

The facility recently won the Environmental Stewardship Award from the Metro Waste Authority, an independent government agency in central Iowa, for its use of green technology. What's more, Iowa Health might eventually see an even greater return on investment, says McDow; the system is planning to double the facility's volume through incremental business, which would lower the cost per pound and yield additional savings.

"We're all challenged by how to spend fewer resources to provide more service, and laundry is clearly a critical service that can be provided in a lot of different ways," Leaver says. "We all need to think about the impact that we have on the environment and be mindful of where we could lessen that impact."

Marianne Aiello

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