EVS attendants Michelle Holley (left) and Eloise Johnson clean high-touch surfaces in a patient room. Wiping down door handles, light fixtures and remote controls are part of their standard cleaning processes.

Heroes Behind the Scenes

The St. Jude staff who clean our facilities have been quick to adjust to the new needs of the hospital in the era of COVID-19.

By Katie Hobgood Ray

 

They empty trash, sweep floors, disinfect surfaces and clean up messes. The work may not be glamorous, but in the era of COVID-19, Environmental Services (EVS) plays an essential role in keeping the hospital safe. As the pandemic moved across the country and the city of Memphis, their work has changed.  

“This is something we’ve never experienced before,” says Michelle Holley, an Environmental Services attendant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “We have to wear goggles, gloves, masks—and we have to stay six feet from one another. It’s hard.”

“We’re social,” agrees Holley’s coworker Eloise Johnson. “COVID-19 has certainly brought about something new.”

Keeping everyone safe is our goal.

Michelle Holley

 
Woman putting on PPE

EVS attendant Michelle Holley dons gloves and other personal protective equipment before entering a patient room in the Kay Research and Care Center. “Keeping everyone safe is our goal,” Holley says. “It’s an honor, a pleasure and delight to be here at St. Jude.”

 
 

Safety and camaraderie

Wearing goggles around patients and embracing physical distancing guidelines are just two aspects of the new routine for these women, who work on inpatient floors in the Kay Research and Care Center. It may be hard for friends and coworkers to keep their distance, but they understand the importance of the new safety measures implemented during the pandemic.

“Keeping everyone safe is our goal,” Holley says. “It’s an honor, a pleasure and delight to be here at St. Jude. People are handling it well. The whole hospital is coming together.”

Woman talking to co-workers

Environmental services attendant Eloise Johnson talks about the importance of social distancing; in the background, another EVS team member stands more than 6 feet away.

In addition to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintaining physical distance, Environmental Services staff are learning to do more with less, says Curt Vargo, department director.

Supply chain issues have plagued hospitals around the nation—not just for vital PPE but also for cleaning supplies. According to Vargo, the “hot commodities” are bleach wipes and hand sanitizer.

Man in sports shirt

Curt Vargo, director of Environmental Services, discusses the addition of UV light to cleaning processes at St. Jude. “The staff have been great,” he says. “There are a lot of changes every day, and everyone has jumped in to help.”

New challenges, new processes

While paying attention to stewardship of supplies, staff in his department are also changing their cleaning processes. One weapon they wield against the virus that causes COVID-19 is ultraviolet light.

“What we have in place for our cleaning processes meets federal infection control guidelines but we’re also using our UV equipment more,” Vargo explains. “After we clean and sanitize the rooms, we put the ultraviolet machine in the area to let the blue lights kill any remaining germs. UV is an additional layer of protection after a patient room has been cleaned by EVS.”  

St. Jude uses UV machines that flash pulsed xenon ultraviolet light on surfaces that are touched frequently. This light sterilizes and kills microbiological contaminants, helping reduce infection rates. Staff members use this process in clinics and many other areas.

“The department has a group of trained employees and supervisors who operate the machines 24 hours a day as needed,” Vargo says.

 
 
 
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Heroes Behind the Scenes

The cleaning staff serve an essential role now more than ever at St. Jude.

For updates on COVID-19, please read.