HIGHLIGHTS | Keeping patients and providers safe
- Environmental Services staff work hard to keep UW Medicine hospitals clean.
- They take pride in protecting patients and providers, especially during the pandemic.
- The team’s workload has increased because of COVID-19.
- Teamwork has been vital during these busy times.
Patient safety is paramount at all UW Medicine facilities, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many of us, care providers may come to mind as those responsible for keeping patients safe. But there’s another team in each hospital whose work is critical to this effort: Environmental Services.
“I think one aspect of my job that people don't realize is that us housekeepers are very much involved with patient care. We may not provide direct care for them like a nurse or doctor, but everything we do is to protect our patients,” says Jennifer Barton, a housekeeper in the Emergency Department at UW Medical Center – Montlake.
Changes during the pandemic
Work in Environmental Services is always busy, but staff have had to adjust to an even faster pace since the pandemic began.
“When we started receiving our first COVID-19 patients, our workload increased tremendously,” says Mark Brumfield, a housekeeper in the Emergency Department (ED) at UW Medical Center – Northwest.
This led to some immediate challenges. For Barton, the rapidly evolving policies have been hard to keep up with, though she says the environmental services management team has done a good job keeping staff informed.
Normally, she would have time at the start of her shift to do a walk-through of the ED and clean up the waiting room, bathrooms and break room before moving on to patient rooms. Now, her days are less predictable.
“The workload increase, with so many rooms needing to be terminally cleaned — the deep cleaning that is done once a patient is discharged — at times can be overwhelming. There were days where that was all I did for eight hours,” she says.
For Jolly Bunga, a housekeeper also at the Montlake campus who works primarily in the mother and baby unit and ICU in the Pacific Tower, the work itself can be a stress reliever during these uncertain times.
“I just try to be attentive with the detail and don't panic,” she says.
The importance of teamwork
For Brumfield, the increased workload was difficult at first because there weren’t enough people to get everything done.
Thankfully, help soon arrived. Staff from the Montlake campus came to assist staff at Northwest during their busiest times.
People throughout the hospitals, doing all different kinds of work, have been there to support each other, too.
“It’s been great to see all departments working together as a team to achieve the same goal,” Brumfield says.
Barton, Brumfield and Bunga all say the reason they enjoy their work so much is because of the people they work with, both fellow housekeepers and other coworkers throughout the hospitals.
“What I love most about my job is even sometimes when I feel exhausted, the staff are always there to say, 'Thank you,' with a big smile,” Bunga says.
This isn’t just reflected in their words, but in their actions. Bunga has worked at the Montlake campus for nearly 16 years, while Brumfield has been on the team at the Northwest campus for 31 years.
Although Barton is newer to UW Medicine, having joined the team in 2018, she also recognizes how supportive the UW Medicine community is — and how everyone has come together in times of crisis like the pandemic.
“One of the greatest things to have experienced during this time is all the support and care the community has shown to all of us,” she says.