Health care organizations are reorganizing, merging, being acquired by larger organizations and even closing their doors. Departmental operations are being scrutinized to see how dollars can be saved, efficiencies gained and patient outcomes improved.

As this scrutiny continues, environmental services (ES) increasingly is the first department to be approached because it is a large-expense, yet nonrevenue-producing department. Reducing the cleaning budget is often a first step in cost control. In lean times, management must make difficult decisions about critical vs. noncritical areas and cleaning frequencies. Expectations may need to be adjusted regarding how often or how thoroughly an area should be cleaned.

Staffing is often the largest item in the ES budget. The department should identify every task it performs, as well as how much time and materials each requires. Assigning hard numbers to the staff's workload allows the leader to perform a quantitative analysis so costs can be determined and reductions considered.

Some ES leaders create their own tracking systems using a basic spreadsheet, while others invest in software that does much of the setup and mathematical work. Either way, the measurements are critical. A savvy manager can use the findings to make a case for maintaining current budget levels or as a way to illustrate what will change if budgets are cut. This often is called a staffing task-analysis study.

The cost-benefit of any cut can be shown and substantiated. If the ES leader has done his or her homework, cutting costs also should be easier. By quantifying how workers clean, areas for improvement can be determined. Although reducing staff will bring the biggest savings, there are often ways to increase efficiency.

Alternatively, effective cost reductions can be achieved by evaluating the department's chemicals and negotiating better pricing; reducing floor care in nonpatient care areas; and assessing whether reducing burnishing of floors in public areas is feasible. Other options include pursuing investments in low or nonmaintenance floor surfaces; negotiating better pricing for paper supplies; evaluating whether office cleaning can be reduced; contracting out project work; and reducing frequencies.

If you are struggling with how best to reduce costs, consider networking with other ES leaders. You also may want to participate on the AHE bulletin board, where you can post questions. You'll find that many AHE members are going through similar situations.

This column was written by Kent L. Miller, MHL, CHESP, president of AHE's board of directors.


Valuable resources

AHE has a comprehensive educational and professional development program that engages all levels of experience.

• Webinar — Measuring Clean: Effective Audit Tools and Practices. This event will be held at 11 a.m. Central Standard Time on May 17. It is free for AHE members and $139 for nonmembers.

• Online course — Principles of Effective Linen Management. This course lasts five weeks and dates are May 14 through June 22. It costs $109 for members and $149 for nonmembers. The course provides an overview of textile challenges such as utilization, infection prevention, laundry management operations and Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council standards.

• Online course — CHESP Study Group. This course lasts six weeks and the dates are May 14 through June 29. It costs $109 for members and $149 for nonmembers. The course offers the opportunity for participants to prepare for the Certified Healthcare Environmental Services Professional exam in a collaborative online learning environment.

• Conference — EXCHANGE 2012 (formerly known as the AHE Annual Conference & Healthcare Marketplace). This will be Sept. 16-19 in Phoenix.

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