Behind the Scenes: Environmental Services

Environmental Services

We sat down with some of the team that keeps our facilities clean. 
McKenna – 2 years
Patty – 12 years
Paula (PC) – 31 years
Sara – 10 years

What does environmental services look like? Is it different in patient care areas?

PC: I do the Critical Care Unit, Imaging, Surgical Outpatient, three rooms on Med/Surg, the Doctor’s Room and Social Services.

M: Some deal directly with patients and some don’t. Some of us do offices.

S: I do both. I deal with offices, the cool crew up here, you know, and I deal with patient areas too, so I have both sides.

Who works in the clinics in this group?

S: Me.

P: I used to work in the clinics, and now I’m in the Emergency Department. I really enjoy the faster pace there.

Does environmental services handle the OR? That’s like a whole other level is it not? I mean, I know you have to have things clean, but, like, there’s *stuff* going on in there.

M: It’s pretty detailed. After a surgery, I go in, take up the trash, then move everything to the middle of the room and mop the ceiling, mop the walls –

Why do you move everything to the middle of the room? I’m picking up housekeeping tips.

M: So I make sure I get everything and don’t miss anything.

So you move everything to the middle of the room and then you sweep, you mop –

M: No, we can’t sweep. No dust is allowed back there. I can’t use a duster. You just don’t want a lot of dust in the air. So I mop the ceiling and I mop the walls.

You mop the ceiling? That’s something I didn’t know.

M: Yeah, it’s basically like a microfiber flat mop. So I can throw it away. It’s a one-time use. And I have a pole extension so I can get the ceiling.

That is crazy. But you know there’s a concern that everything be clean, so, okay. Wow. Okay. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure.

S: It’s the same as what you do if you have a contact room, like if you have MRSA, you basically have to do the room the same way. With surgeries, you do the ceiling and the whole thing once a day at the end of the day, unless we have totals, which happens on Tuesdays.

(For the more sensitive souls out there, I’ll just summarize what they shared next, and say that total hip replacement surgeries need to be cleaned up after, every time. Now, back to the interview.)

So when you’re doing a room in Med/Surg or CCU, there are different signs on the doors, right? They’re clues that something’s different about this room. Tell me about those.

PC: We have a sign that is brown and that’s enteric. So you clean that with bleach water, 1:10 (ratio) bleach water solution. Droplet is the green sign. We use Virex disinfectant cleaner for that. We have the orange signs for contact. You have to go in there and use your Virex, change curtains, wash walls…

Do you guys mask up for any of this?

S: Yes, and you have to gown up.

PC: With droplet, you have to wear a mask. With contact and enteric, you have to wear a gown.

Is there always somebody here on duty? 24/7/365/Christmas day?

S: Every day, yes. And pretty much all day. From 1:30-3:30 there’s a night janitor available to help with anything that comes up.

PC: I’m here at 4 a.m.

How are the clinics and outbuildings handled? Are there dedicated staff for clinics?

S: There’s someone that does Family Medicine – Ellensburg, Orthopedics, and Pediatrics, so they just clean those. And then there’s someone that just does Radio Hill, Physical Therapy, and Occupational Therapy & Speech Therapy. Then there’s Laura, she does Internal Medicine and Workplace Health. I do Women’s Health, General Surgery, and here (upstairs at the hospital).

So in the hospital, this is the place where cleaning could happen at any time, but with the clinics and the external buildings, it’s pretty much before or after hours.

S: Right. When the clinic staff leaves, then the housekeeper comes and cleans.

Environmental Services is an 18-person crew, plus 3 in Laundry, responsible for keeping clean 135,000 sf of KVH facilities.

Are there any ideas people have about the work that you do that you want to correct?

PC: Well, some people think that literally all we do is mop the floor and collect garbage. It’s more detailed than that. I’ve actually had patients say to me, “Oh, you got the fun job cleaning up after us,”  and I go, “Well, you know, it pays the bills.” (Laughter) And I’ve done it for a very long time. So then they ask me how long, then they say, “Wow, you’re a lifer!”

One of the things I forget is that your jobs are 100% on your feet, all the time.

Is there anything that might surprise us, like mopping the ceilings, about the work you do?

M: You’re tested on how well you clean the room. There are invisible dots everywhere.

Oh, what? Tell me about this!

M: It’s from the company Ecolab. Before surgeries, someone will go in and dot the room with these little invisible dots that I can’t see. After I clean, they go in with a black light and see if the dots are still there.

Is it some kind of substance that would come off if the surface was cleaned, is that the point?

M: And you can’t just wipe it, you have to really rub hard on it to make sure it’s actually gone.

How often does that happen?

M: Several times a month.

S: They do it in Med/Surg and CCU, too. And OB, when you clean the C-section room, there’s a checklist, so someone has to check everything in that room to make sure that it’s clean. So it’s not just your eyes that have been on that, it’s other people, too. So that’s kind of cool.

Well if you think about it, like the number one piece of health advice that people give is wash your hands. And I don’t know if you realize or if people think about how important the work is that you do, because if we didn’t have a clean environment here, can you imagine how sick everyone would be? So, bless you for all you do.

What are the challenges of working in environmental services?

M: When someone calls out sick, because then you’re covering multiple areas.

S: Being in more than one place at a time. It’s like, be here, do this, do that. And the hours, you know, the hours aren’t always super ideal. It’s common for people at KVH to have an 8-4:30 job, but most people in our department don’t.

What are the rewards of working in your department?

S: I would have to say, the people. Speaking for myself, General Surgery, Women’s Health, the people here. At first, I never wanted to work upstairs ‘cause it’s all administrative staff. And now that I’ve been up here, I really like these people. I can get used to working up here, you know?

Let’s put it this way. If you’re that special person who loves cleaning, then maybe that’s what you like. But otherwise I would think it would be about the patients, and the people.

M/S (unison): I like to clean!

PC: I really like interacting with patients.

It must be tough, ’cause you guys have physically demanding jobs, but you have the opportunity to be a bright spot for somebody that’s probably not having a good day. I’m sure you are very much appreciated by patients and families.

What does it take to have a good day at work?

Everyone: Sense of humor!

PC: Also have a positive attitude and respect each other.

How does environmental services support the KVH mission of providing quality patient care?

PC: A clean environment, I would think.

M: We help not to spread infection.

S: Yes, infection control. Make sure everything’s clean.

You’re protecting patients, right? And staff. You should have police badges. I’m seriously in awe of the work you do. Everyone else will be, too.