Jamestown Regional Medical Center environmental services saves lives
Staff of environmental services use state-of-the-art equipment and processes to sanitize the Jamestown Regional Medical Center.
Editor's note: This story is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
There is a lot more to keeping a hospital room clean and sanitized than a mop and bucket, according to Dane Grebel, Support Services manager and emergency preparedness manager at Jamestown Regional Medical Center.
"They save lives," said Katie Ryan-Anderson, marketing manager for JRMC, speaking of the environmental services department. "Pushing a rag around is a gross understatement of what they do."
Grebel said the environmental services staff is specially trained to clean the patient rooms and the common areas of the hospital in ways that eliminate any germs or viruses in the area. Those cleaning processes are standard in a hospital but became more important in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
"The pandemic flipped everyone upside-down," he said.
Keeping the hospital clean starts with the design of the facility. Every patient room has negative air pressure, meaning air from the room is constantly being vented to the outside of the building rather than flowing into the hallways or other parts of the hospital.
"It typically takes about 2 hours for the air to completely change in a room," Grebel said.
That time varies from room to room with some specially designed to vent the air more quickly than others.
Clearing the air from the room would have been the first step in sanitizing a room after the discharge of a patient that had been treated for COVID-19.
After that, one of the hospital's two germ-zapping robots into the room. The robot would have used ultraviolet light to kill any germs or viruses on visible surfaces. This process takes about 15 minutes.
Then someone with the environmental services team entered the room. He or she would strip the bedding, shower curtain, privacy curtains and even window decor from the room. The team member also washes down all surfaces with a hospital-grade disinfectant.
When those processes are done, the robots take one more shot at any possible remaining germs or viruses.
The process takes time which was short during the peak COVID infection rate in the Jamestown area in November.
"When we had a super high census, we had people out," Grebel said. "Some staff worked 30 to 40 days in a row without a day off."
It was also a more stressful work environment.
"I never thought anything of the risk," said Tanya Buchanan, environmental services worker at JRMC. "Then the pandemic came. I didn't sleep so well."
The environmental services staff is trained to handle the chemical sanitizers and to keep themselves safe. Most are a Certified Health Care Environmental Services Technician, abbreviated as CHEST, signifying they have been specifically trained to keep a hospital environment safe and free from germs and viruses.
Through all these processes, the environmental services staff wear masks and full personal protective equipment.
"It was scarier at first," Buchanan said. "Going into rooms and not knowing what is in there is scary."
Through the year of the pandemic, Grebel said there were no active cases of COVID-19 traced to exposure at Jamestown Regional Medical Center.
"We're going to continue to be prepared," Grebel said. "Our numbers are down but we can't drop our guard."
That means keeping up on training and the latest information and procedures for cleaning hospitals.
"Hopefully we are ready for whatever comes," Grebel said. "Normal is a new normal."