As Young T and Bugsy’s “Don’t Rush” plays in the background, a camera captures an EVS staff member wiping down a handrail while moving to the beat of the music. Zooming in on the cleaning rag, the camera then pulls back to show another rag being used to wipe down door handles. Zoom in and the rag has virtually passed on again, all to the steady hip-hop beat.
The HUP EVS staff made this TikTok video in a style that has been popular on social media this year, but of course, their job is the opposite of ‘going viral.’ Now that both inpatient and outpatient practices are operating near pre-COVID levels and the number of COVID-positive inpatients at HUP has dwindled, EVS work has taken on a new rhythm, based on what they learned at the height of the outbreak, as they help keep patients safe from viral transmission.
Stepping Up at HUP
Now that the units that were temporarily designated for COVID care have transitioned back to their original patient populations, EVS still uses a specially trained cleaning team created early in the pandemic to tackle the COVID patient units. The SWAT team — as it came to be known — comprised 12 EVS staff at its peak, all of whom had volunteered to take on this new role. EVS provided special training that showed them what needed to be done … and how to stay safe while doing it. “Unknown things can be terrifying, but we were able to fight fear with knowledge,” said Ariel Desphy-Carter, assistant director of HUP Environmental Services. “Our director personally met with staff, heard their fears and addressed them all.
Today, the SWAT team continues to clean the rooms of inpatients who test positive for COVID. All admitted inpatients and outpatients who are coming for procedures are tested, so the COVID status of all of these patients is known. EVS staff still wear the necessary personal protective equipment, carefully putting it on before entering a COVID room and, even more important, removing it safely it upon leaving the room to ensure the virus won’t spread to other areas of the hospital. “I always feel well-protected,” said SWAT team member Latasha Banks.
The patient room cleaning and sanitizing is always thorough but efficient, Banks said. “With all the PPE on, you do what you have to do and get out,” she said. But she’s found the patients “super nice” and very polite. “They ask me ‘Are you ok? Do you feel comfortable being in here?’”
In addition to the bleach wipes and other cleaning supplies, EVS’s cleaning arsenal includes an electrostatic spray gun, which shoots positively charged particles that evenly coat all surfaces and objects, even if it’s only sprayed on one side. The sanitizing agent in the spray then disinfects all the covered surfaces. EVS also expanded their use of UV light technology, using it regularly in COVID patient rooms after discharge and outpatient areas throughout the hospital.
A month after she joined the COVID team, Banks went to a family gathering… and later tested positive for COVID based on a suspected exposure there. She quarantined herself for two weeks and then rejoined the COVID team. This time, though, “I understood how the patients were feeling and shared my experiences with them,” she said.
Even though the local severity of the pandemic is easing, EVS staff continue their COVID vigilance throughout the hospital. “I’ll keep myself on the front lines to do it until there’s no more COVID,” Banks said.
Tackling all of PCAM
The EVS team across the street from HUP — who cover the Perelman Center, Jordan Medical Education Center, and the Smilow Center for Transitional Research — have also had their work cut out for them. “In all of my time here, nothing compares to this. It freaked everyone out, not knowing what was going on,” said Geneva Jefferson, a 22-year EVS employee. “But we had to get to work.”
Similar to the HUP team, the EVS staff at PCAM received a “lot of training,” said Kathey Lowery, assistant director of EVS in PCAM. In-service sessions stressed the importance of “staying safe, keeping social distance, and wearing your mask.”
Their basic strategy is to cover all areas from top to bottom, and then start again. Even in areas where staff were working from home, the EVS staff cleaned and sanitized computer keyboards, desk tops and chairs. Even during the early months of the pandemic when traffic through PCAM had dropped, EVS continuously tackled “every inch of space,” Jefferson said. “There were still people moving throughout and we didn’t know where they were traveling.”
Today, more is known about the spread of COVID. For example, the transmission of the virus from contaminated surfaces and handled objects such as utensils and phones is likely an uncommon route of infection when compared to exposure to respiratory droplets. But, to minimize even this small risk of surface transmission, the EVS teams are keeping to their COVID-learned routines: making sure every Purell dispenser is full and that there’s plenty of soap and paper towels in the bathrooms and that high touch areas, such as light switches and door handles, are kept sanitized and cleaned.
Many people — patients and staff alike — have noticed and commented on the thorough work of the EVS staff, at both HUP and PCAM. “I’ve had people thank me on the street!” Jefferson said.
The recognition, Lowery said, “not only brought worth to what they’re doing, but it brought people together.”
While Jefferson finds that constantly wearing a mask at work can be tough, her motivation to keep going comes from a friend who was very ill with COVID. “She thought she was going to die. That scared me to death, when it’s so close to home. But it also makes me work even harder.
“We’ll get through this — we’ll overcome. Everyone just needs to do their due diligence and follow the rules. “