February 15, 2021
Environmental Services Essential to Health Care Safety
Environmental services staff, such as housekeepers, spend most of their time on patient care units at UPMC Muncy and Muncy Place, part of UPMC Senior Communities. While they’re highly visible with their cleaning carts, their humble work is easily taken for granted.
“Our housekeepers and environmental services team make sure that the patient rooms, units, and public spaces in our facilities are clean and safe,” said Charles Schmoke, operations manager, Environmental Services, UPMC Muncy. “When the pandemic hit, we knew we still had a job to do and, in fact, that job was more important than ever before.”
Things look a little different now, as the environmental services staff wear personal protective equipment and clean high-touch and high-traffic areas more frequently.
“Our cleaning was so well done, and our standards set high before the pandemic that not much else had to change,” said Charles.
While others in the industry faced many unknowns and shortages with cleaning supplies and protective equipment, UPMC ensured the staff had everything they needed to do their jobs as safely as possible and make the facilities as safe as possible. If staff needed time off for COVID-19 testing or if they were sick, UPMC guaranteed their pay so that a financial burden wouldn’t be one more thing to worry about.
“Our organization is there for us and they’ve done so much to make our hospitals the safest place for not only our patients, but also our staff – it means a lot to know they care about all our staff,” Charles added.
It’s no surprise to Charles that his staff rose to the challenge to meet the increased demands of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.
“The stress of our jobs increased as the pandemic arrived,” said Freda Tilburg, housekeeper, UPMC Muncy Place. “There was extra cleaning to be done, preventive testing to comply with regulations, and the added time and effort of donning and doffing the protective equipment. It was a lot to take in and take on with everything else that was going on around us.”
In addition to the new cleaning and protective equipment requirements, UPMC also implemented visitor restrictions to help control the potential spread of the virus at its facilities. This was an added measure to ensure the safety of patients, residents, staff, and the community, but it also created emotional strain for patients, residents, and staff.
“UPMC Muncy has always been a gem in the community,” said Patrick Fogel, supervisor, Environmental Services, UPMC Muncy. “As a small community hospital, we’re like a big family and we’re caring for people whom we see at the grocery store, out in the community, and sometimes even our own family members.”
A familiar, warm face was the calm in the storm for ill patients and residents during the turbulent times. Frontline health care workers showed the world that human touch, compassion, and familiarity are as vital to well-being as the constantly evolving high-tech health care industry.
“I’ve been with UPMC for 11 years and I had never seen anything like this,” said Tammy Mumma, housekeeper, UPMC Muncy. “Seemingly overnight the hospital changed, the world changed, and it was a lot to take in. While many people’s lives came to a stop, ours continued because our work is always there and our patients, residents, and colleagues depend on us.”
And the community has shown its support, not just for health care workers but for all frontline and essential workers in the region.
“While we didn’t expect it, we’re very appreciative of how the community has come together to face these challenges together, said Patrick. “It’s truly amazing to see how much of our own struggle and hardship we will put aside to help others. It’s why I love working here and being a part of the Muncy community.”
Patrick’s team echoes his love for their hospital and their team.
“Although we’re not doctors and nurses, we are a part of the care team and our work is essential to everyone’s safety, said Tammy. We don’t do the job to be recognized, we do it because we care so much for our patients, residents, and colleagues. We’ve always been like a work family, but this pandemic has really shown just how well we can all come together when times are tough to not only be there for our community, but to be there for each other.”