VA NY Harbor Healthcare System
When EMS was needed, they showed up
NEW YORK — In early March amid the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a full fifteen minutes before the start of the morning shift, Michael Taylor, the assistant chief of Environmental Management Services at the VA New York Harbor VA Healthcare System’s Manhattan campus prepared his team of cleaners, painters, and housekeeping professionals for the day with a pep talk: Remember, the only thing we want to take home to our families today is a paycheck.
The EMS team faced the unprecedented task of preventing the transmission of COVID-19 among staff and patients alike by thoroughly disinfecting all surfaces, rooms, clothing, and equipment.
“These unforeseen conditions placed the Environmental Management Services Department on full alert to man their battle stations, as the COVID-19 threat placed the Environmental Services Technicians on the front line of this war.” Debjit Rudra, assistant chief of EMS at the Brooklyn campus said.
From the outset, Acting EMS Chief Carl Eagan knew the facilities would require additional support fighting this invisible enemy, and contacted staff to fill the gaps.
“To prepare for this crisis, the EMS team worked fearlessly alongside our Infection Control and Engineering Teams to assist in the conversion of all wards and emergency rooms to accommodate COVID-19 patients, while maintaining a safe and sanitary environment to protect our doctors, nurses, and staff around the clock,” Rudra continued.
EMS service covers Harbor’s three medical centers across the city, with each site presenting its own unique challenges.
At the Manhattan and Brooklyn campuses, rooms are disinfected once a patient is discharged from the hospital, while at St. Albans – a community living center – patients reside in their rooms long-term, making the rooms much more difficult to clean and disinfect.
“At first, we were scared. But our team stepped up big time, stayed late when needed, and came up with innovative solutions that helped us do our job better,” Herbert Jenkins, assistant chief of EMS for St. Albans said.
During the height of the pandemic Harbor took many COVID-19 positive patients. To clean and disinfect COVID patient rooms, housekeeping staff needed to employ new procedures to meet this challenge.
Arthesia Felder, the housekeeping supervisor for St. Albans, took the lead in creating packages of hand sanitizer, gloves, and PPE which made it quicker and easier for staff to jump into action while maintaining their personal safety.
Additionally, the purchase of two germ-zapping robots will accelerate the process of disinfecting patient rooms and clinics for years to come.
One of the extraordinary things about the EMS team is that they touch every floor and clinic of the medical centers, which gives them the ability to interact with patients on a daily basis.
“Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the patient and tell them what we’re up to. You’ll see them five times a week, so do your best to build that rapport and help allay their fears,” Taylor advised.
But none of this would have been possible without everyone working as a team. Staff attendance during COVID-19 was much higher than a month or two before, and volunteers turned out in record numbers.
“Without great leadership and support, we wouldn’t have been able to do this job on behalf of our great veterans. It was quite a task, we had no idea what we were up against, where we were going or where we were headed,” said Bruce Kelly, an EMS supervisor for the St. Albans facility. “But this was a united effort.”
“What can I say? When we got the call, we showed up. And thanks to this challenge, we’ve never been stronger as a team. I can’t thank this incredible group enough for all they’ve done,” Eagan concluded.