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Environmental services staff step up in fight against COVID-19 in Alberta

A group of health-care workers operate behind the scenes, but they play an essential role in the fight against COVID-19.

The environmental services team is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting within the health-care system.

Felanie Aguila works in ES at the University of Alberta Hospital and she’s worked with the same team for almost four years. Within minutes, they can have a room prepped for its next patient.

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“It’s not been easy with the extra jobs we’ve been doing this year,” Aguila said. “It really matters to work with a good team. We have a system that makes the job easier.”

Lilie Tosic is a housekeeper at the Misericordia Hospital. She said one of the best parts of the job is working in many different units and meeting new people.

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“That’s what makes COVID-19 a little easier. Lots of people say to me that they appreciate my work. That’s helped me have more power for the next day.”

Tosic, a mother of three, said when the pandemic started she was worried about contracting the virus.

“There was a lot of new rules and safety precautions. We must be careful and watch out for ourselves,” Tosic said.

“Every day we had to learn something new and that’s good. My co-workers want to keep everyone safe — everybody in the hospital.”

Tosic wears PPE (personal protective equipment) that includes a gown, gloves, goggles, a mask and face shield.

Jenalee Sehn, environmental services manager at the U of A Hospital, said the level of PPE required to complete a clean is also an additional hurdle.

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“It’s really not as easy as changing the garbage. We are very meticulous with our cleans and procedures. They are lifting heavy mattresses and things like that. When you are head to toe in the PPE that’s required, it can be exhausting.”

When asked about burnout at work, Aguila admitted the job can get overwhelming during the pandemic.

“But, we have to find joy. We need to be positive,” Aguila said. “Everybody is tired. Everybody gets grumpy. You just need to take a break and start again.”

Sehn has been keeping track the number of bed cleans over the course of the pandemic at the hospital.

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“In some cases we’ve seen an increase of more than 1,000 per cent,” Sehn said. “Our emergency department has seen the largest increase in the level of activity.”

Sehn said a high number of patients being put in isolation has also added to the burden.

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“Everybody has really had to go above and beyond to meet those turnaround times and an increased workload,” she said. “They’ve just done a fantastic job. This team is so valuable to the whole hospital.

“There’s certainly been a level of enhanced cleaning during the pandemic, but it’s also been a good opportunity for us to showcase what we do here,” Sehn said. “As far as our principles, practices and products, that’s been relatively unchanged.”

Global Edmonton’s “Health-Care Heroes series highlights people in Edmonton doing amazing things during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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