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The Business Case for Reusable Textiles

Reusable Textiles: A Profitable Rx

Healthcare providers and other organizations that converted from disposable to reusable isolation gowns and cleanroom coveralls report cost-of-use savings of up to 50% to 60% and a 10% to 15% savings on surgical gowns – for products with comparable barrier protection to their disposable counterparts.

After UCLA Health completed its conversion from disposable to reusable isolation gowns at four hospitals in 2015, it found its custom gowns, made of 99% polyester and 1% carbon, could withstand laundering 75 to 100 times, which has translated into a 50% cost savings.

Victor Mitry, assistant director of logistics and materials management, said that at the time, the health system was using 2.6 million disposable isolation gowns annually – and generating 234 tons of landfill waste – and those numbers were forecast to rise. The cost of disposable gowns was projected to increase to $2 million while the costs for the reusable gowns, including processing expenses, over four years was forecast at half that amount. The conversion proved a good decision. So far, UCLA Health has issued 10 million reusable gowns, saved $450,000 a year – a total of $3.9 million dollars and it diverted 1,180 tons of waste from the landfill. Mitry said the expense savings do not include separate solid waste disposal savings.

“It also does not include sizable costs avoidance during the pandemic,” he said “The disposable gowns we did not have to buy increased in price from 76¢ per unit to $2.95 per unit.”

But the advantages of the conversion went far beyond dollars and cents, Mitry said. Because it converted to reusables long before the pandemic and supply chain crisis began in 2020, the UCLA Health hospitals didn’t experience isolation gown shortages.

“This program was instrumental in materials management’s ability to provide our clinical staff the protection they required throughout the pandemic,” said Mitry. “We were able to meet the needs of our clinicians, never had to ration gowns, and avoided increased costs other health systems may have experienced due to the global supply shortage.”

See Case Studies

Other healthcare providers who conducted partial or full conversions on isolation gowns experienced similar benefits.

The non-profit Carilion Clinic, a nine-hospital system based in Roanoke, Virginia made the switch in 2011 after disposable isolation gown suppliers couldn’t meet demand during the global swine flu pandemic in 2009-2010.

Carilion Clinic officials estimated a cost savings of 50% per gown use, based on 79¢ for disposable gowns compared to 39¢ cost of use for reusable gowns, in a pre-COVID world. “They saw the payback period, the ROI (return on investment), was less than 6 months and thereafter they were saving 50% per gown,” said Kaeleigh Sheehan, a sustainability strategy manager at Practice Greenhealth (PGH).

The Carilion Clinic healthcare system saved more than $850,000 and eliminated nearly 515,000 pounds of waste over the first 3 years, from fiscal year 2011 through 2013, and Director of Laundry Services Jim Buchbinder said its hospitals experienced no isolation gown shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile Jon McGuire, executive vice president of surgical linen supplier and NOVO subsidiary SRI Healthcare, said, “Hospitals can expect to see a 10% to 15% savings in the cost of use for a reusable surgical linen system versus a disposable system.”

“The supply chain is greatly enhanced by using local reusable products because it’s coming from down the street, not across the ocean,” said McGuire.

 McGuire added that because surgical instruments are often wrapped up in soiled operating room linen, SRI recovers and returns $1.50 worth of instruments per procedure. Hospitals using disposable surgical linen often lose these items as they’re discarded along with the waste. One of SRI’s clients, UNC Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, North Carolina, conducts 40,000 surgical procedures a year, saving an estimated $60,000 in recovered surgical instruments, he said.

Reusable cleanroom coveralls, used in life science research and by the pharmaceutical, semiconductor, medical device and food manufacturing industries, deliver a 58% cost-of-use savings versus disposables. That was one of the conclusions of an economic study that Environmental Clarity performed for ARTA in 2021 that was based on a compilation of 22 cleanroom customer documents from laundry operators and suppliers representing all four regions of the U.S. and with a wide range of annual usage.

Make the Business Case 

Karl Fillip, CEO Emeritus of Atlanta-based NOVO Health Services, cited the example of a regional hospital system client that realized a 53% savings with a full conversion from disposable isolation gowns to reusable gowns in mid-2020 after its vendor couldn’t supply the single use gowns it had used in the past.

NOVO used the provider’s actual adjusted patient day (APD) data and expenses for disposable gowns and for the first half of the year compared to the cost of reusable gowns, including processing costs based on 70 washes, during the second half. Hardly a normal year, Fillip said, but the analysis was insightful nonetheless.

A highlight was the expense savings from the decrease in waste volume and the associated Environmental Services (EVS) expense to remove it.

The hospital system’s vice president of vice president of supply chain and facility management said of the conversion. “We have found that converting to reusable isolation gowns has improved our bottom line. Reusable isolation gowns cost less than disposable ones, but the real savings comes in reducing labor and waste-stream costs. Less trash means less labor collecting trash.”

Highlights from the cost comparison study:

  • Total waste volume dropped from 19 pounds per APD before the conversion to 17.4 pounds per APD afterwards, a decrease of 1.7 lbs or 9% in overall waste volume.
  • Environmental services (EVS) expense to remove the trash decreased 18¢, from $2.06 to $1.88 cents per APD, also a 9% drop.
  • The total waste and labor savings was 30¢ per APD
  • The cost of use of each reusable isolation gown, 13¢ based on 70 washes, plus the laundering expense of 45¢, meant the total cost was 58¢ cents versus the single use gown cost of 60¢.
  • Netting out the waste savings, the reusable gowns cost 28¢, a 53% savings versus disposable gowns.

The results were so striking that NOVO has made documenting the cost savings for clients a standard business practice.

Fillip said he was inspired to conduct the cost comparison when he heard from hospitals that they planned to return to single use gowns after the COVID-19 pandemic subsided because disposables are less costly.

“It felt horrible. We’ve proven our case. It’s unequivocally less money and it generates less trash,” Fillip said of reusable gowns. But the obstacles are formidable, he noted, – clinicians accustomed to single use products, large companies represented by big sales operations that supply many products and services, manage supply room inventories, and offer rebates on total spending.

NOVO developed a hybrid plan, composed of Level 2 reusable barrier isolation gowns and disposables, supported by cost comparison data using the provider’s actual adjusted patient day data and expenses. for disposable gowns and related expenses before the conversion and the costs using a mix of disposable and reusable gowns afterwards.

“We have been able to change the narrative in a way that we’re gaining attention. The clients that have signed up with us for reusable gowns have stayed with us because we continually provide the data,” he said.

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