The Advantages of Automated Pneumatic Waste Conveying Systems

Improve Operational Performance and Infection Control

Finally, there appears to be a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. For hospital facility managers, however, this light is overshadowed by the significant challenges made only worse during the pandemic. With reduced budgets for back-of-the-house departments, limited staff resources, and higher-than-ever staff turnover, managers are being tasked to do more — more quickly — with less. As hospitals zero in on infection control, facility managers are also being asked to play a more prominent role in preventing cross-contamination.

Waste and linen are key culprits in the spread of hospital-associated infections. Carts full of soiled linens and bundles of refuse are common sites in the busy corridors and crowded elevators of most hospitals. As staff manually transport these carts from floor-to-floor — coming into contact with dozens of people as they collect and drop off loads — the risk of cross-contamination and infection increases.

While potentially spreading pathogens, hospital waste can also negatively impact the patient experience. With ongoing staff shortages, many hospitals simply don’t have enough human resources to remove carts and bundles of linen and waste in a timely manner, leaving them piled up for patients and guests to see and smell. So, what does a hospital do?

Goodbye Gravity Chutes

Aware of the risk not only to patients but to staff, hospital facility managers have accepted that there is no easy fix to the problem of waste management. Many hospitals continue to rely on inefficient and unreliable gravity chute systems to dispose of waste and linen. These systems, however, often fail to meet the demands of the job; dirty materials pile up at the bottom of chutes or worse still, get clogged in route. Then there’s the amount of time and effort it takes for staff to clean discharge rooms and transport carts to compactor containers.

There is a better way to manage waste. Recent advancements in pneumatic conveying technology offer hospitals and their facility managers a solution not only to staffing challenges, but to increased demand for infection control. Common waste management approaches adopted by most hospitals require staff to manually collect and transport waste and linen floor-by-floor, across the entire facility. Pneumatic waste and linen conveying systems automate this process, resulting in a wide range of benefits for staff, patients, as well as the hospital’s bottom line.

How They Work

Enclosed pneumatic systems operate by collecting waste, recycling, and soiled linen from multiple points throughout a hospital facility and whisking it away to a central location that is entirely out of sight of patients and visitors. Staff simply place refuse or linen into a load station located on each floor, using a secure, touch-screen panel to transport it — saving them the time it takes to haul loaded carts from floor-to-floor, contributing to cross-contamination wherever they go.

Inside the load station, bundles are released into a system of fully enclosed ductwork hidden behind walls, above back-of-house ceilings and underground. The bundles are moved through the ductwork via a pneumatic conveying system; soiled linens are separated and deposited into carts, while recycling and trash are diverted to their respective compactor containers. The most advanced pneumatic waste conveyor systems also have the technology to filter out odors and fine particulates before venting into the environment and can transport waste streams upward vertically as well as between multiple buildings.

High-tech they might be, but pneumatic conveying systems dramatically simplify and streamline waste management. Here’s how.

Zero-Contact Workflow

By automating waste and linen management, the system provides for a zero-contact workflow; less human contact means fewer opportunities to spread pathogens. With load stations located on each floor, staff will no longer need to move carts piled high with waste and soiled linen on elevators and back-of-house corridors — reducing the risk of cross-contamination with people, food, and other medical supplies while also reducing congestion.

By providing on-demand waste and linen removal, pneumatic waste conveying systems prevent unsightly and malodorous backlogs of carts, refuse, and soiled linen. Waste and linen management is relegated to spaces behind the scenes — creating a cleaner environment that improves patient and staff satisfaction as well as safety.

Enhanced Productivity and Efficiency

Pneumatic conveying systems promote a lean as well as contact-free workflow process. By automating waste and linen management, the system reduces the number of manual tasks involved. Instead of staging waste carts in corridors and back-of-house areas or cleaning carts and discharge rooms, staff can spend their limited time on value-added tasks.

Pneumatic conveying systems additionally allow multiple staff to access load stations and send multiple loads simultaneously. This dramatically reduces the amount of time required to transport waste and linens, preventing backlogs from piling up in patients’ view.

With fewer manual tasks to perform, facility managers will be able to reduce staffing requirements as well as associated costs. By eliminating much of the “dirty work” associated with manually collecting and transporting waste and soiled linens across the hospital, facility managers can expect to see higher staff satisfaction as well, which in turn may reduce turnover.

Return on Investment

Given these operational improvements coupled with increased infection control measures, it’s no surprise that more new hospitals are incorporating this technology in their construction plans. Some facilities are even looking at retrofitting existing gravity chutes and other vertical enclosures with pneumatic waste conveying systems.

But are these systems worth the investment? Factoring in the cost savings from reduced staffing requirements, improved efficiencies, and lower risk, hospitals can expect to see a six- to eight-year payback period on their pneumatic waste conveying system investment, with an average 20-year return of $8 to $12 million. For hospitals seeking to shave costs wherever possible, this is no small change.

These numbers are appealing to a growing number of healthcare organizations, including The University of Pennsylvania. This leading institution of higher education is currently building a 1.5 million square-foot Patient Pavilion on Penn Medicine’s West Philadelphia campus, and plans to incorporate the latest Pneumatic Waste & Linen Conveying System from Precision AirConvey (PAC).

“We expect to see a significant return on investment from the new system, based on the improved efficiencies and savings in facility management alone,” explains Rick Paul, Senior Healthcare Technical Lead at HDR. “When you look at the inefficient workflows and problems of traditional gravity systems, the amount of staff labor required to manage waste, and the risk of human error and cross-contamination that come with manual tasks — it makes good business sense to install a pneumatic conveying system as part of a new construction project. It’s better for staff, for patients, and the overall hospital performance.”

To learn more about pneumatic waste and linen conveying systems, contact Dean Herbstreit, National Sales Manager at Precisions AirConvey (PAC) at 804-658-6594, email dherbstreit@airconvey.com, or visit automatedremoval.com.