Hospital housekeepers have always been an important part of the care team, but the coronavirus pandemic highlighted how critical it is to have a team that’s thorough and knowledgeable about sanitizing techniques.
“We understand even more so with COVID-19 that pathogens don’t care who you are. And environmental services is here to minimize the spread of any cross contamination,” says Joseph Ramos, manager of Environmental Services at Community Regional Medical Center.
Most of the public wasn’t aware at the onset of the pandemic how important it is to thoroughly clean surfaces. Casey Jenson, manager of Environmental Services (EVS) at Clovis Community Medical Center, agrees: “The whole pandemic brought to light how important environmental services is to the whole hospital … It put a magnifying glass on our practices.”
Wearing extra personal protection with masks and goggles required in patient care areas was challenging, says Guadalupe “Lupe” Garza, an environmental services team lead. Many of her colleagues had to overcome their fears of getting infected. “All of us had family members who went through it,” she says. “I lost my aunt to COVID. But being the team lead, I was here encouraging people, saying, ‘I know it’s scary, but we have to do our job to keep others safe.’”
Garza and fellow team lead Joanna Vasquez got a boost of confidence when they came together this past year in a classroom with nine of their colleagues for 10 weeks of rigorous study on best practices in cleaning and sanitizing in a healthcare facility.
All 11 took a two-hour test in July to become nationally Certified Healthcare Environmental Services Technicians (CHEST). They’re now among 343 certified healthcare EVS techs in California and among only 5,000 nationwide.
Certifications part of new career ladder for hospital housekeeping
Both Vasquez and Garza say they were thrilled to be given the opportunity to prove themselves and use this national designation as a stepping stone.
“It was an opportunity to know a little more than just cleaning. There are certain protocols we have to follow when we are cleaning certain areas,” says Vasquez, who works at Community Regional. “I see myself growing now as a team lead and one day moving up to supervisor. I’m able to pass on what I learned in the classroom to my coworkers and correct them when they are not doing something right. And not just correct them, but also tell them this is the reason why we’re doing it this way.”
Garza has been working as team lead for seven years at Clovis Community and hopes to become a shift supervisor next. “It was exciting to get nationally certified in something I already knew,” she says. “Sitting through class was actually fun — especially getting to know other team leads throughout the corporation. We got to hear each other’s ideas and how they do things in other facilities.”
The training provided by Community Medical Centers is part of an enhanced career ladder for environmental services that created a new position of EVS Tech 2. That higher-level position requires the national certification, says Jenson. “It used to be just tech, team lead and then supervisor, so there was not a lot of growth potential unless a leader left,” Jensen explains. Now there’s an intermediate step before team lead.
“Everybody that got into this program was excited,” says Ramos. “They saw it as an opportunity. To have that, opens doors. It’s important to learn as much as we can regardless of what job we do in this organization.”
Despite the challenge of attending class and studying after working full shifts, Ramos says many EVS techs are asking how they can get into the certification program. The program has become a big pride booster.
Certified environmental service techs also boost hospital operations
Healthcare organizations across the nation that provided certified training reduced their turnover rates in environmental services by a third and saw a 50% increase in the frequency that their EVS staff interacted with clinical caregivers.
“This is important for staff retention and to show we value the skills and knowledge that comes with being a tech for a while,” continues Jenson. “Our job is different than cleaning in a hotel or a school and we need to understand different pathogens and how the different chemicals work to protect us against those pathogens. This is really about more than cleaning sinks and toilets, this is about preventing infections in the hospital. And so for them to have the certification, this is just evidence of the knowledge they have.”
Jenson says in a hospital environment, cleaning is looked at in two different ways: “We want to make sure that the things you see with your eyes look organized and neat and clean. And it’s easy to see when there’s trash overflowing or something spilled … The second way we clean is disinfecting the environment we care for patients in. We follow a standardized process so we cover every surface to make sure we get where those pathogens might have been to limit the risk of causing other people to get sick. It’s a big job.”
It’s not just about disinfecting patient rooms, Vasquez adds. “We also clean complicated places like the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and OR (operating room), which is a whole different process with different chemicals.”
Hospitals with certified EVS techs saw a 10% improvement in patients’ perceptions of their hospital experience on nationally required patient surveys, and they reduced hospital infection rates by more than 50%, according to data collected by The American Hospital Association and the Association for the Health Care Environment.
“I was confident our staff already knew what they were doing, but this is just proof that they have the knowledge,” says Jenson. “It makes me proud that we can provide this as an organization. I think this shows our staff that we want them to grow, that we believe they can do work that matches the level of national best practices.”
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