Working Every Day to Help COVID-19 Patients
By Jose Medrano
Director, Environmental Services, Harlem Hospital Center
Not long after New York became the “hot spot” for the COVID-19 crisis, I helped transport a woman in her 60s from the Intensive Care Unit to surgery. She had recently recovered from a coma and shortly after she was awake, realized she had survived the COVID-19 virus.
During our 15-minute ride to the surgery unit, she cried nearly the entire time. She thanked God for her good fortune and said she would pray for us. Her recovery and willingness to live rejuvenated me and gave me a new purpose to continue the fight.
I run the hospital’s housekeeping department with responsibility for 140 Harlem Hospital Center associates. This means I’m an essential worker and must report to work every day.
Once the virus came to New York, like everyone else, at first, I was nervous. I did not want to get sick or bring the virus home where my wife, two daughters and mother could be infected. I’m was also concerned about my relatives. My brother, Regis, is the director of EVS services at Westchester Medical Center in New York while my sister, Teresa, is an assistant director for EVS at Mount Sinai - West. Our cousin, Eliceo Rivera, is the assistant director for EVS at North Central Bronx Hospital.
But I’ve learned to embrace my duty to my family and the people who lay alone in a hospital bed without being able to speak or see their families. Standing at the frontlines of this pandemic next to my team members is a fulfilling feeling. I’m proud to be part of a team led by Regional Director of Operations Jeff Gontarek, senior leaders Paul Killion and Michael Villani and our hospital’s chief executive officer, Ebone Carrington.
Everyone’s Work Duties Have Changed
Because the hospital’s patient transportation team is short-staffed, my management team and I use much of the day transporting COVID-19 patients between rooms. And it hasn’t been easy.
All of the patients we’ve transported have the same look of despair; I try to comfort them by telling them to stay positive.
To do everything possible to help each patient, my work routine has been completely disrupted. Instead of working at my computer to manage supplies and a budget, I begin every morning by delivering a speech to my frontline staff before they head to their assigned units. I try to keep them informed and engaged, and minimize the fear that is understandable.
Keeping everyone focused on the job at hand has been a tall order. It starts with our daily huddles, which is the most important time of our daily operation. During these difficult times, it’s important that my staff hears from me first.
I use three strategies to be effective. First, I tell them a story about my upbringing in the Dominican Republic and my parents’ choice to move here for a better life. Next, I help them understand who we are as a team, and how much more important our job is than just cleaning and disinfecting – but those jobs are awfully important to help prevent the spread of germs and healthcare association infections.
Finally, I try to explain our purpose during this crisis and the level of achievements our department can reach. Because of the fear of infection, it’s hard for many people to be motivated to even show up to work, My goal is for them to understand their purpose for showing up to help all patients on that day.
The rest of my day, I round the floors to ensure that my staff have everything they need to perform their job. I also make it a point to say some encouraging words to them, just to remind them how important their job is for these patients.
In my off hours, I’ve been writing for my blog, Wizard Talks and reading a lot, mainly books about personal growth, financial literacy and team building. I also cherish every second I get to spend with my wife and children when I am home, knowing that anything can change at a moment’s notice.
I wake up every day motivated to provide comfort those suffering in the hospital, as well as my family. All of us are praying that we will make it out of this dire situation. There is a light at the end of this dark tunnel, but we have to fight this fight together. Until then, stay safe, wear a face mask and practice social distancing. And, if you have an opportunity, show your support and celebrate all of those frontline workers who are working to save lives every day.
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