Take a (laundry) load off a Lafayette healthcare worker

Photo by Rebecca Autin

When COVID-19 struck, the people behind Hampr took stock of what they could do to help. Just out of the nest, the Lafayette-born startup didn’t have money. What it did have, however, was laundry hampers. Midway through the coronavirus pandemic, the company waived membership fees for its laundry app and gave away free hampers to Lafayette General Health employees. Now it’s taking a step further, with the Lafayette General Foundation’s help. 

Just in time for a week of spring fund drives, the foundation is raising money to pay for loads of laundry for its 6,000 workers, including full-time employees and contractors. The idea is a natural extension of the earlier Hampr for Health partnership, giving people of goodwill but without a lot of disposable income a way to assist the doctors, nurses, commissary workers, janitors and other support staff that make the hospital system tick across its entire footprint. 

“We get calls, and physicians get calls, asking, ‘What can we do? You saved my life, you took care of child.’ This is an opportunity for our grateful patients to be able recognize their physicians in a unique way,” says Nancy Broadhurst, executive director of the Lafayette General Foundation.

Launched late last year, Hampr is a laundry app service — sort of like Uber for your towels and socks — that pairs chore-laden customers with part-timers willing to put their washing machines to work for extra income. Hampr washers won’t be laundering scrubs out of sanitary concerns, but that doesn’t mean laundry baskets aren’t piling up at home for hospital staff. For healthcare workers, the service could be a good fit for staff who work full-time and have families. At $10 a load, it doesn’t take much for donors to buy them an evening away from the laundry room. 

Nurses make up about a third of the LGH’s full-time workforce, says system spokeswoman Patricia Parks Thompson. Many were displaced during the pandemic, as elective surgeries were shut down by state orders. That doesn’t mean they weren’t working. Surgical nurses volunteered at the system’s outer affiliate hospitals, helping them stand up extra ICU units where necessary, like in Acadia Parish, one of the first hospital systems to surge. Things are slowly getting back to normal, Thompson says, and the system views the program as a way not just to thank its workers, but to offer perks in a way that’s beneficial for another local business.

A pandemic is not the best climate to grow a startup. Lafayette’s innovation economy was a long way from maturity when the coronavirus pandemic hit and normal spending habits evaporated. Beyond the noble cause of taking a load off hospital workers, the effort makes business sense for Hampr. The partnership hooks up the fledgling company with a regional health system that’s an economy unto itself, spread across Acadiana with hospitals and clinics throughout the region. 

The effort has positioned Hampr to partially open in several new markets quickly, activating washers from its queue around the system’s footprint. 

“This has helped us reach a whole new clientele. It will help us generate order flow and keep our washers employed,” says Laurel Hess, Hampr’s founder and CEO. Hampr has approximately 15 or 20 washers working at any one time, processing about 40 loads each day. Hooking up with LGH, though, could open up the possibilities for the company’s platform.

Cian Robinson, executive director of innovation, research and real estate at LGH, says efforts with Hampr are part and parcel of the foundation arm’s hunt to invest in startups. Robinson also directs two health innovation funds for the Lafayette General Foundation. Lafayette General has not formally invested in Hampr, but the partnership dance is where the Hampr for Health effort began. 

More and more, the foundation is positioning itself as a player in Lafayette’s nascent startup network. Still light years away from the venture capital behemoths on either coast, Lafayette has come a long way over the last decade, Robinson says, and is well-positioned to make some impressive plays in healthcare, which is taking the pole position in Acadiana’s economy with no sign of falling back. So, what does that have to do with folding clothes for hospital workers? 

“[Supporting startups] helps us solve problems we can’t solve ourselves internally,” Robinson says. With Hampr in particular, that’s projecting uses for its platform beyond consumer convenience. “At the end of the day, they’re a logistics company,” he adds, saying they’re “noodling” on other ideas that aren’t quite ready for prime time. 

Reaching institution-scale customers like a regional hospital system was always part of the business plan for Hampr. Should the partnership flourish, Hampr could piggyback on LGH’s imminent merger with Oschner Health, the state’s largest hospital system, and even move on to hospitals outside the state; Robinson, at least, hopes to take them that far. In the meantime, Hampr for Health takes the company full-circle to why Laurel Hess started it in the first place: getting fed up with doing laundry. 

“I want healthcare workers not to have to worry about laundry,” she says.

To make a donation to Hampr for Health, visit the Lafayette General Foundation donation portal and select “Hampr for Health Fund” from the drop down list.