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Lac-Mac: A Quiet Canadian Success Story

By Nathan Schiff, Ph.D.
Associate Editor - Institutional

If you’ve never heard of Lac-Mac, chances are you don’t purchase or launder fabrics used in the health care field. However, if you have ever been hospitalized in Canada, you have probably been touched by the company’s products. Located in London, Ontario, the firm was started 80 years ago, and today has a staff of 150 people.

Lac-Mac management does not seek the limelight, and Fabricare Canada was fortunate to be allowed to visit their facility. This shunning of the spotlight goes back many years. For instance, in 1949 the company moved into impressive 30,000 sq. ft. premises. This was newsworthy because at that time most businesses were struggling to stay afloat. Yet a search of trade publications for that year did not turn up any news item about the new premises.

The following year, 1950, was also an important milestone for the company, and one for which it did not seek publicity. In that year Lac-Mac introduced blue-green fabrics for use in operating rooms. This colour was Lac-Mac’s solution to the eyestrain experienced by surgeons as a result of the glare of bright lights on white operating room linens. Management named and trademarked the new linen EYEREST™ . This was the first use of soft green in OR apparel and linens in Canada.

Another innovation in 1950 was conductive shoe coverings. These grounded out static which could cause ether, the most common anesthetic of the time, to explode. This protection consisted of conductive rubber-soled boots which fit over regular shoes. Conductive strips of rubber were sewn into the boots with one end taped to the skin of the wearer. Static discharged harmlessly along the strips and into the floor.

The innovations described above are just two examples of the company’s commitment to solving problems and responding to its customers’ needs. Lac-Mac representatives visit hospitals and institutional laundries, gathering information about current problems, as well as listening to suggestions for new products. Such research provides inspiration for the creative minds of the Lac-Mac staff.

For example, although the company has several hundred styles of uniforms and patient wear available, designer Shelley White can produce an new design to a customer’s specification, in less than two hours with her computer-assisted design system.

It is interesting to note that the company was a pioneer in the use of polyester/cotton blends to replace the traditional all-cotton products used in hospitals. This not only brought new comfort to patients and ease of handling to hospital staff, but also lighter weights which translated into better efficiencies in laundering. This blended fabric is such a staple today that few people can remember the harsh feel of institutional cotton which used to be part of any stay in the hospital. All fabrics used in manufacturing are subjected to rigorous testing to ensure quality control.

The sewing staff is divided into self-contained work units which handle all jobs from construction to final inspection of the garments. All members of the unit work as a team and are cross-trained so that they can continue to operate if one person is absent.

Bruce Tapson, an account representative, is quick to emphasize that the strength of Lac-Mac’s 80 years in business is its strong relationships with both customers and employees. Customers appreciate the stability of the company which has a very high percentage of long-term staff, many of whom are second and third generation employees.

Health Canada has classified surgical gowns as a medical device. These products are designed to offer proven levels of protection to the operating room staff. Because of this classification, the manufacture and distribution of surgical textiles is regulated by the government. To meet the increased need for documentation, Lac-Mac is well under way in its pursuit of ISO certification..

InnerBloc® surgical products incorporating Gore™ surgical barrier fabric are easily customized to meet the changing needs of the operating room, and to offer the very latest in barrier protection. These products may be adapted to any linen system and are also available through Canadian Sterile Repack®. This program provides safe and effective sterile packs directly to C.S.R. and to operating rooms.

Bill Keenan, Sales and Marketing Manager of Lac-Mac works with a number of organizations including C.S.A., AAMI and ISO (international) on the development of new standards and policies. Recently he was involved with The Canadian Standards Associations in the drawing up of its standard entitled Selection, Use, Maintenance and Laundering of Re-usable Wrappers, Surgical Gowns and Draperies for Health Care Facilities.

So far this article has dwelt on the Health Care Unit, which is only one of the six divisions which make up Lac-Mac Ltd. This segment is involved in the manufacturing, sales and service of operating room products, patient apparel and uniforms. It is on these items that you will see the company’s label when you visit your local hospital.

A second division, closely aligned to this, is the Bed and Bath Wholesale Division which handles all the other fabric items which are required by hospitals. this includes towels, blankets, sheets and other bedding items.

The third division is called the Express Division. This is a mail order service which is available across Canada. Customers order from catalogues which feature uniforms which may be purchased by health care workers for their individual use.

The fourth division is called Quala. This stands for Quality Assurance Linen Administration, the name for specialized software which was developed by lac-Mac to assist hospitals in managing perennial problem of controlling linen inventory. Through the use of barcoding, this software enables an institution to track the utilization of linen within the facility. This program is now available world wide.

The fifth division is Export. Through it Lac-Mac’s products may be shipped anywhere in the world.

The sixth division is Industrial Workwear. Utilizing Gore-Tex™ fabrics, this division markets products which offer protection and comfort to workers in the chemical industry as well as to workers who spend a great deal of time working outside in the elements.

This is a brief look at one of Canada’s health care textile resources. It has constantly used the newest technology to solve customers’ problems. From eye-easy OR linens to static-stopping boots, to computer software, it is a good example of Canadian creative excellence in action.


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