Lidia Torres gets ready to clean a room on 5 Hayes, our medical surgical unit (which is not for patients with COVID-19).
While many of us stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, our essential hospital employees are reporting to Shore Medical Center to face this pandemic head-on. Our staff are humble people by nature, but we know they’re heroes, deserving of all the praise they’ve received from our community. In our new column, #ShoreHealthcareHeroes, we introduce you to the men and women on the front lines and the important work they’re doing in this battle to save lives.
#ShoreHealthcareHeroes: Environmental Services Team
In a hospital, the environmental services (EVS) team is responsible for cleaning all areas of the facility, along with waste disposal – critical roles in normal times, but even more so in the face of this pandemic. These brave men and women are on the front lines of COVID-19, helping prevent the spread of the virus within the hospital.
One of the most important aspects of their role right now is cleaning a room after a patient who had COVID-19, or is suspected of having it, is discharged. They are responsible for eliminating any trace of the virus and preparing the room for the next patient. They go into the room wearing all of the necessary personal protective equipment (gloves, gown, N95 mask, face shield, etc.) and clean every corner and surface - including ceilings. Their expert attention to detail is what makes them successful. They remove their PPE except for a mask and dispose of it in a double-bag with a pigtail knot and use a germicidal to clean their face shield for reuse. Finally, as an added safeguard, they use a UV light designed to kill the virus. The EVS team member will enter information on a screen including his name, the location and the cleaning cycle time. Once he presses ‘start’ he has 30 seconds to leave the room. The UV light then goes through a full cycle and kills any remaining trace of the virus.
Baylen Botts, Director of Environmental Services, says their protocol for cleaning isolation rooms hasn’t changed much, but they’ve had to adapt in other ways.
“For COVID-19 patients, we have to minimize the number of people entering their rooms, so nurses assigned to those patients have been helping with basic cleaning while the patient is hospitalized. We’ve had to pay extra special attention to high-touch surfaces like railings, handles and switches, even more than usual, but other than that we are still following standard protocols to keep everyone safe in the hospital, just like with other viruses. Because of the influx of people coming in through the emergency department, however, and not knowing exactly where the virus can be at any time, we really need to do our very best, every time.”
Botts is really proud of the team and how they are working together.
“Staff are really stepping up to cover each other and ensure we remain fully staffed. Some of our staff were out of the country right before this started and had to remain quarantined for two weeks. Others have children who are suddenly out of school or daycare, while some are caring for a loved one at home who is vulnerable to COVID-19. Everyone has been very understanding.”
Even though they are a team, they still have to practice social distancing rules just like everyone else.
“We don’t do a huddle before every shift anymore. We can’t have too many people around a time clock or in the break room. We’ve marked off spaces in those areas, and have also canceled larger meetings and find other ways to communicate information,” Botts says.
Other changes have happened at his level and up, with Botts and Shore’s Administrative Director of Logistics Bob Robertson working with Xanitos, the contracted EVS provider for Shore, to find new ways of making supplies last.
“Just like every other hospital, we’re all trying to order supplies like PPE and cleaning agents. These are used by many staff on the front lines, so we’ve had to come up with new ways to conserve supplies. For example, nurses use a certain type of germicidal wipe, and so do we. But now instead of my team using the wipes as well, we can conserve these wipes for nurses by instead using something called Virex which is also effective against the virus. We are constantly reevaluating our processes to conserve while effectively cleaning to remain ahead of this virus.”
As experts in sanitation, Botts and his team have a few words of advice for those concerned about exposure to COVID-19.
“Hand sanitizer has been a hot commodity, but for every six times you use hand sanitizer you should be washing your hands with soap and water. Be sure you’re using germicidal cleaning products that are proven to kill viruses, and leave surfaces wet for the recommended time or it won’t kill the virus.”
Botts also says the average person touches their face 25 times an hour, but that’s the most common way the virus is transmitted - through the facial mucosal membranes.
“Ask a family member to remind you not to touch your face, or hold something in your hands or make a fist when you feel tempted to touch your face,” Botts says. “It’s an important habit to adopt.”
When asked how his staff are feeling these days, he emphasized the outpouring of generosity toward them in the form of donated meals and supplies has been inspiring. “So many people within the hospital, community members, board members – they’ve really stepped up to help however they can – it’s a great feeling to know others are concerned about our well-being.”
But he also acknowledged it can be stressful.
“As the Director, I’m here to answer questions and help keep our team calm. Anxiety can cause you to freeze up, and as housekeepers, we can’t – we have to do the job and do it well regardless of our concerns. If we don’t, it impacts so many people. We have a big responsibility to do our best every time. I clean right alongside them whenever possible, so the team knows we are all in this together.”
He added, “In order to fight this pandemic we need to all be on one court working together. Teamwork is crucial right now. Everyone’s job is important and vital, and we can definitely see that now."