Up to Date Laundry employs over 400 in its west Baltimore plant. The laundry service for many local healthcare providers plans to double its capacity by starting a second location in east Baltimore. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Up To Date Laundry, a Baltimore-based commercial laundry operation that cleans sheets, doctors' scrubs and other linens for many of the area's major health care systems, plans to double its capacity and eventually its employment with a new facility in the Hollander Business Park next summer.
The 70-year-old company expects to hire 100 new employees of various skill levels when the Pulaski Industrial Area location opens in July 2017, and an additional 300 over the first five years of operation, officials were to announce today. .
"We've been here a long time; the city's been good to us," said Mark Carter, Up To Date's president. "By expanding in East Baltimore, that'll bring more jobs to a community that desperately needs jobs. I think that's really, at the end of the day, what's important."
Aside from calling it a multimillion-dollar investment, the company declined to say exactly how much it is spending on the new 79,600-square-foot facility. The project is being financed by Revere Bank and the Johns Hopkins Health System's HopkinsLocal initiative. The Baltimore Development Corp. is lending $300,00 for capital improvement as well.
The new facility is expected to increase the firm's laundry capacity by 72 million pounds per year and speed up turnaround for its clients, which include Johns Hopkins Health, the University of Maryland Medical and MedStar Health systems. The company serves 37 hospitals, as well as doctors' offices, surgery centers and nursing homes.
Up To Date cleans more than 60 million pounds of health care linen each year for hospitals across the region, making it one of the largest health care laundry services on the East Coast, officials said.
On Wednesday, whirring conveyor belts and employees whisked hundreds of pounds of laundry, labeled by hospital, around the firm's current facility near the Interstate 95 overpass on Desoto Road in Southwest Baltimore. Even with many operations such as folding mechanized, the sheer quantity of laundry the company processes requires a workforce of more than 400.
It is one of the only local facilities accredited and certified to service hospitals and other medical centers that have extremely high hygienic standards, said Corey Blanton, senior executive vice president of sales and marketing.
Up To Date processes about 2.8 million pounds of laundry a month for MedStar Health, said Alex Gardner, director of supply chain at the system's Franklin Square and Harbor hospitals.
Together, Franklin Square and Harbor use between 200,000 and 600,000 pounds of linens a month, Gardner said.
"Opening another facility would increase that capability," he said. "It sounds like an awesome asset."
Gardner praised Up To Date's customer service, saying the firm took extra efforts to prepare his hospitals for last winter's massive snowstorm.
"They coordinated with us to make sure we had all the linen in place, in case roadways were blocked," he said. "It's very vital, because of the fact that with our patient load, we have to have clean linen."
Up To Date didn't always wash hospital sheets. Its laundry services originally catered to another of Baltimore's giant industries: the port.
Then-owner William Stair Sr., father of current owner Nancy Stair-Carter, operated the company for years as a rapid laundry service for ships that came in from New York and Virginia.
"When they would come into port, whether they were Navy ships or other ships, he would actually process their laundry and turn it around very quick, almost like a dry cleaner would," Blanton said.
"But in the mid- and the early-1950s, he really saw a need in the health care community to find someone to process high volumes of laundry, also turning it around very quickly, and decided to venture into that business," Blanton said.
The company made the jump to all-medical laundry in the 1960s, he said.
In the past 10 years, hospitals have embraced outsourcing of services like laundry as they cope with changes to reimbursements and consolidate, said Linda Fairbanks, executive director of the Association for Linen Management. Much of that activity has happened already, but health systems are still monitoring those costs, she said.
"Health care is a big marketplace and has been for a number of years," she said. "Hospitals are just being very smart customers right now. They are looking at cost and quality."
Baltimore City Councilman Brandon M. Scott, whose district includes the Hollander Business Park where the new facility will be located, said the announcement is a signal of the area's revitalization.
"I welcome anyone who wants to open a business in the Pulaski Industrial Area," Scott said. "Anytime someone calls me and says they're looking for an industrial place, that's the first place I suggest."