Hospital Environmental Services (EVS) – the ‘invisible’ team that is crucial to patient safety in a hospital. When people think about and praise ‘healthcare frontline workers’ it's usually nurses and doctors – the importance of the role EVS workers play is largely unrecognized. At one time regarded as basically a janitorial function, EVS staff are critical to infection prevention in hospital.EVS a common target of hospital budget cutting measures:
- Low wages
- Lack of good benefits
- Limited training
- Becoming more common for hospitals to outsource to contractors
- Causes loss of institutional experience (think – the person who has worked at the same hospital for 20 years vs. some cleaning company that’s hired to come in)
- Results in higher turnover because workers aren’t ‘connected’ to the institution where they work in the same way
- Doing ‘less with more’ in this profession can have scary consequences
- Rooms must be deeply and meticulously cleaned to eliminate all pathogens
- Rushing causes corner cutting
- Scarce PPE can mean EVS workers are under-protected from exposure to harmful disease
I am a married mother of 2 and recently had shoulder surgery that would leave me wearing a sling for 4-6 weeks. My husband and 2 boys knew ahead of time they’d be ‘chipping in’ around the house to cover all the things I wouldn’t be able to manage with one arm. Despite this knowledge, they were completely caught off guard by how much they actually needed to do… as in, they never realized before that moment how much I do on a daily basis.
I think this is similar to how some hospital management teams felt when the pandemic hit and the crucial role of EVS workers really came to the forefront. The quality work of those EVS employees, who were always previously part of background functions in the hospital, rose to paramount importance. Just like with my family having to step in to do my ‘job’ for me while I was injured, the impact of what the EVS staff really contribute had been overlooked until a major event disrupted the status quo.
At the start of 2022 as many organizations take stock of where they are now and where they are heading, a shift in is occurring in many hospitals. They are beginning to regard EVS workers as part of their patient care teams, recognizing their importance as part of the process to ensure patient safety and infection control measures are successful. Many hospitals are implementing EVS process changes based on lessons learned during the most intense COVID-19 surges.
This is improving the working environment for EVS workers because it entails:
- Ongoing education
- Continuous improvement efforts
- More collaboration
- Upgrades in technology (such as inspection tools using blacklights so workers can tell whether they’ve sufficiently cleaned a surface)
- More recognition within the hospitals
The career improvement outlook for EVS professionals is a positive one. There are many hospitals and healthcare organizations actively working to strengthen their EVS teams and support systems. Hopefully in the future EVS staff will get to enjoy a similar level of recognition and appreciation by coworkers and patients as doctors and nurses do today.