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Unsung Heroes of Infection Prevention: An Exploration of Environmental Services Teams’ Impact in Hospitals

Inside every healthcare operation, beyond the often glorified physicians and nurses, exists a group of hidden heroes that work tirelessly to ensure patient safety. These heroes are the environmental services (EVS) staff in hospitals whose dedication and commitment are crucial in combatting the persistently high rate of hospital-acquired infections. Their role is even more critical considering the 1.7 million patients who contract an infection during their hospital stay annually in the U.S, leading to the unfortunate and preventable death of almost 100,000. The figures highlight the crucial impact those who don the EVS uniform have on fighting infections, pointing to the tragic outcomes poor cleaning and disinfection practices can result in.

Dominated by their low visibility in the healthcare spectrum, EVS staff, like those at the South Central Regional Medical Center (SCRMC), deploy their skills, dedication, and knowledge to break the chain of infections. They focus their efforts on thorough cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, acting as the initial barrier against infection. Their vigilant and effective work has seen SCRMC maintain their facility’s infection rate consistently under state and national levels.

For them, this is far more than an employment opportunity; it’s a calling, a chance to genuinely contribute to the community and make discernible differences in people’s lives. This mindset overpowers the low compensation, often associated with the EVS profession, and fuels their dedication to their roles.

The profession is a labour of love, a sentiment echoed by staff members such as Loretta McSwain, a second-shift supervisor with a decade-long experience. Helen O’Neil, with an impressive 41-year tenure in the EVS department, attributes her long-standing role to the people she interacts with daily and the opportunities to serve others.

Possessed with industriousness and a commitment to continuous learning, the EVS staff tackle demanding tasks that require stringent training. This training is necessary to stay up-to-date with emerging times and outbreaks, a fact recent global experiences like the pandemic has reinforced.

Their responsibility extends beyond visual cleanliness. The EVS team relies on advanced technology, such as ATP Testing, to detect invisible pathogens and microorganisms present on surfaces believed to be clean, fostering continuous improvement of cleaning processes.

Outside their technical role, the EVS teams are often a source of calm and solace for patients and families, a testament to their interactional skills and their ability to form valuable relationships during cleaning rounds. Acknowledging their vital yet often overlooked role can have a considerable positive impact on these determined individuals.

To witness the true essence of champions in healthcare, one must gaze past the celebrated physicians and nurses to see the hardworking environmental services team. They truly are the unsung heroes in the lifelong fight against healthcare-associated infections.


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