“Not all heroes wear capes. Some of them wear scrubs. Some of them wear uniforms. And some of them wear what you’re wearing right now.” – Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Health Department.
Mercy’s team of 80 housekeepers are always on the front line when it comes to protecting patients, staff and visitors from germs. Since Mercy became the first hospital in Ohio to admit a COVID-19 patient last month, these unsung heroes have been in a daily battle against the highly contagious, invisible enemy. As they clean and disinfect throughout the hospital—including rooms that were occupied by COVID-19 patients—they’re also providing conversation and comfort to patients who are missing interactions with loved ones.
Housekeeping Staff, Mercy’s First Line of Defense Against COVID-19
“A well trained, conscientious housekeeper, given the right tools and enough time to do the job, will prevent more disease than a room full of doctors can cure.” — Darrel Hicks, nationally recognized expert in infection prevention and control
For Chuck Noebe, Mercy’s director of Environmental & Laundry Services, the quote aptly describes the crucial role of Mercy’s 80 housekeepers.
“We have always told our housekeepers how important they are,” he said. “What they do every day to stop the spread of hospital-acquired infections really does save lives. They are unsung heroes and deserve to be recognized, especially now, for the work they’re doing during the COVID-19 crisis.”
Chuck, who has been with Mercy for four years, said that along with helping to lower the rate of hospital-acquired infections, the housekeeping staff has also helped Mercy increase HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Heathcare Providers and Systems) scores and worked with management to implement the use of germ-zapping robots.
“These are all huge steps. I’ve been in this business for over 25 years, working at several facilities, and never have I seen an overall staff as engaged and dedicated as we have here at Mercy.”
Housekeepers taking on new challenges
Last month, Mercy became the first hospital in Ohio to admit a COVID-19 patient. Some housekeepers—who typically wear a uniform and a pair of gloves (unless cleaning an isolation unit)—were asked to suit up in N95 masks, goggles, gowns, and gloves, and disinfect rooms and areas of the hospital contaminated or possibly contaminated by the highly contagious virus with no vaccine.
For safety reasons, nurses provide necessary cleaning in rooms that are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients. When the patients are moved or discharged, housekeeping staff move in to clean and disinfect the COVID-19 rooms.
Housekeeper Maggie Turpin works on 10 Main, the unit where the hospital’s first COVID-19 patients were treated. She is credited with setting the tone for the housekeeping staff’s response during the crisis.
“When we called Maggie in and told her what was going to happen on her unit, she stepped up with no hesitation,” Chuck said. “She performed discharge cleaning for COVID-19 patients and helped develop a system, working with direct care givers, to provide necessary cleaning for occupied rooms.”
“It was unknown territory, but I have faith over fear and a lot of hope,” the Massillon grandmother said. “The only thing we can do is move forward.”
Because she lives with her daughter and three grandchildren, the 8-year Mercy employee takes precautions like leaving her shoes in a bucket at the back door and heading to the basement to strip off her work clothes. “I don’t want to spread anything to my family or anyone else.”
Maggie said that housekeepers are as essential as anyone else working at the hospital. “I would find it offensive if someone thought of me as just a housekeeper. I’m proud of what I am and I love what I do.”
Housekeeper Jerri Weaver said that Maggie provides calm guidance and leads by example. “Her positive attitude and information have helped a lot. We also get a lot of support from our supervisors who are always checking on us to make sure that we’re doing OK. They make sure that we have the proper equipment to do the job and because of that, I trust that we are safe.”
The 2-year Mercy employee works on 5B, a post-surgery unit, before it was converted to a COVID floor. “Jerri never hesitated to stay on the unit to clean, and she’s become a big part of the nursing team on that unit,” Chuck said.
Jerri appreciates the positive feedback. “We’ve been hearing from a lot of people that we’re doing a good job. We’re part of the fight for America. We’re all working as a team, trying to stop the spread of the virus so we can move on.”
Going above and beyond
“Those of us in the healthcare industry knew that COVID-19 would eventually reach Canton, Ohio,” Chuck said. “Our senior leadership has done a great job preparing us so we were ready. We have enough chemicals and cleaning supplies, and even have backups, in case the chemicals we normally use aren’t available.”
He said that while the cleaning procedures in place at Mercy were excellent, some changes were made to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. “We’ve tweaked things a bit to go above and beyond.” For example, the walls in COVID-19 rooms are now washed in between patients, a different cleaning/disinfectant product is used on the floors, and along with the usual personal protective equipment (PPE), housekeeping staff now wears masks throughout the hospital.
“We have always cleaned the high-touch areas like elevator buttons, door knobs, push plates, light switches, handrails and IV poles,” he said. “Now, we’ve increased the frequency.”
Robots provide next-level disinfecting
In addition to manual cleaning, Mercy’s housekeeping staff has extra weapons in the war against COVID-19: “Maddox” and “Mo,” two Xenex LightStrike™ Germ-Zapping™ Robots that resemble the Star Wars character, R2-D2.
Mercy was the first health care facility in Stark County to use the robots that safely emit germicidal ultraviolet (UVC) rays during the cleaning process. Use of the LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots has been proven to kill pathogens on surfaces in the healthcare environment that are known to cause infections.
The robots were purchased two years ago by the Mercy Development Foundation, a volunteer and fundraising organization that supports the hospital. The cost of the first two robots was offset with the proceeds from Mercy Service League’s signature fundraising event, Harvest Ball. Last week, Scott Fitzpatrick, a member of the Board of Directors of the Mercy Development Foundation, and his wife Karen, contributed $103,000 to the Mercy Development Foundation for the purchase of a new LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robot. The robot, named “Scotty” in honor of Mr. Fitzpatrick, will soon join Mercy’s germ-zapping robot team.
Mercy uses the robots to sterilize the areas where patients are most at risk for infection, including patient rooms, operating rooms, cardiac surgery, and cardiac catherization labs. “We’ve now added COVID-19 patient rooms, and we can use the Xenex Robot’s UV light in the disinfecting process of some hospital PPE,” Chuck said.
Out of an abundance of caution, Mercy is disinfecting COVID-19 rooms both before and after the manual cleaning is completed. It only takes 5 minutes for a robot to thoroughly disinfect a room, with housekeepers repositioning it to ensure all areas are reached, floor to ceiling.
“Using the robots to provide next-level disinfecting during the COVID-19 crisis helps to stop the possible spread from patient to patient and keeps our front-line heroes safe,” Chuck said. “Mentally, it increases the comfort level for staff while working in an unbelievably stressful environment.”
A welcome presence
It isn’t all about cleaning and disinfecting.
Michael Dougherty, manager of operations, said that housekeepers who work on non-COVID-19 units have become a welcome presence for patients who aren’t able to spend time with family and friends during the crisis.
“In normal times, our staff’s patient interaction is fantastic. But with the necessary visitor restrictions, our housekeepers’ interactions are even more vital. While they do come into a patient’s room to provide a service, they’re also someone to talk to and they’re very good at providing comfort. That goes a long way in promoting a healing environment.”