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.
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.”
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.
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.