Pandemic also puts strain on hospital support staff

  • Lab technicians at Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Many hospital employees are performing jobs that aren’t clinical, yet their roles are as important as ever during the care of COVID-19 patients.

Workers in environmental services, housekeeping, labs, nutrition, bio-engineering, transport and linen services are tasked with keeping hospitals clean, ensuring equipment such as ventilators operate correctly, and food meets the health care plans prescribed by physicians.

More patients, especially those with the virus, create an extra strain on hospitals that are understaffed and can’t meet demands for intensive care unit beds.

“Every one of our team members is contributing to this effort dealing with the pandemic,” said Chris Ward, chief nursing officer at Comanche County Memorial Hospital. “Our housekeeping department is the first line of defense in the infection control of the hospital. They’re using new technology and guidance from the CDC to keep everything clean.”

Figures from the Oklahoma State Department of Health show there have been 337,457 COVID cases and 2,804 COVID-related deaths as of Jan. 12.

But there are more employees who aren’t recognized publicly for the work they do in the battle against the virus.

Various lab workers have coordinated COVID testing procedures and arranged for the correct supplies to be shipped in a timely manner.

“Their coordination of services and supplies has been unbelievable,” Ward said. “At the same time, our food service employees have adapted to a new way of doing things and ensuring the food remains warm and tasty while also using disposable plates and cups.”

At one point, a second cafeteria was constructed for visitors, which meant those areas had to be cleaned more often, Ward said.

“All of these people are unsung heroes,” he continued. “They’re doing all of this work in their regular shifts.”

Change has been constant at CCMH since COVID struck almost a year ago. In one instance, engineering workers transformed two waiting rooms into a COVID emergency room while the second half of the room was built as a non-COVID emergency room.

“We’ve done some pretty amazing things to keep people safe,” Ward said. “This has been a team of individuals taking care of patients.”

Meanwhile, OU Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Casey Woods said the hospital uses an “it takes a village approach” when caring for all patients, including those diagnosed with the virus.

In one instance, two environmental services employees who have worked at OU Medical Center for more than 30 years were named to a task force that works to ensure patient safety. The two employees, following CDC protocols, are specialists in cleaning COVID patient rooms.

“The goal of our environmental services workers is to keep patients safe, team members safe and providers safe, and they do it with a smiling face and with a collaboration like I’ve never seen,” Woods said.

All OU Medical Center employees are “extremely vital” to the continued care of patients.

“For example, our dieticians help with patient recovery by working with the clinical providers and ensuring food nutrients are being provided,” Woods said. “At the same time, our environmental services department police the public areas, clean patient rooms and clean the rooms once patients have been discharged. These teams ensure the rooms are ready for the next patient.”

At the same time, transport workers ensure patients arrive at their scheduled procedures within the hospital and linen service employees are tasked with providing clean sheets and blankets for those same patients.

While most of the non-clinical employees are performing their jobs during regular shifts, there are some interruptions in the schedule when workers contract the virus and have to be quarantined, Woods said.

“We have loyal, dedicated team members who are doing everything they can to ensure a safe stay for patients,” he said.