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Caring for Environmental Services Teams’ Mental Health During COVID-19

Saving lives is a heroic job any day. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers are putting themselves on the frontlines against a deadly virus each and every time they go into work — all to care for patients and keep the world safe.  

Usually, frontline workers are thought of as doctors, nurses, lab technicians — anyone involved in direct patient care. While these individuals are critical to fighting this pandemic, one group that remains largely behind-the-scenes — but just as vital — is environmental services (EVS).  

EVS teams work day and night to clean and disinfect every nook and cranny of the hospital from patient rooms to isolation rooms to surgical rooms. They’re coming closer to the novel coronavirus than many can fathom, all to prevent its transmission and keep patients healthy.  

The Importance of Environmental Services (EVS) Teams  

  • Pathogens cover at least 25% of surfaces in a patient room, and if patients are placed in a contaminated room, their chances of acquiring an infection increases by 5 to 6 times. 
  • Coronavirus pathogens have a hospitalization rate of 40.4 per 100,000 and a death rate of up to 15.7% in some countries, including the UK and Belgium.  

In mid-April, 2020, just months after the first known COVID-19 case in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 9,282 healthcare professionals in the US had contracted COVID-19, and 27 had died from it.  

The fear and anxiety healthcare and hospital workers have about contracting the virus themselves is significant, and it can take a serious toll on their mental health. In addition, whether due to exposures, illness, or the need to care for loved ones at home, hospitals around the country are experiencing staffing shortages, which may put extra strain on all employees. 

In order to ensure environmental services workers are able to do their best work to keep patients safe as well as feel appreciated during this trying time, it’s important to take care of their mental health. Here are 3 ways hospitals can do that.  

1. Communicate the ways in which you are keeping them safe.   

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented hospitals with a number of hurdles to overcome, ranging from upgrading infection protection protocols to personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages. These concerns can leave EVS workers uncertain about their own facility’s ability to protect them from the virus.  

The Concerns of Healthcare Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

One study, done by National Nurses United (NNU), showed that only 30% of surveyed nurses believe their healthcare facility has enough PPE to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients, and only 29% say their facility has plans in place for isolating infected patients.   

The concerns of healthcare workers reflect real challenges that stem from the pandemic. However, hospital leadership has a responsibility to communicate the ways in which they are prioritizing the safety of their workers, such as:  

  • Reducing facility risk, including encouraging telemedicine, screening anyone who enters the facility, and limiting the number of visitors  

  • Isolating patients with COVID-19 symptoms, immediately  

  • Emphasizing the importance of hand hygiene among all personnel, patients, and visitors  

  • Ensuring proper use of PPE 

EVS workers know the risks associated with their role in a hospital. However, when they need to adjust their roles or are unclear about new safety protocols, it can lead to added anxiety. Clear communication can quell their fears and provide important reassurance during this uncertain time.  

2. Find ways to boost their morale.  

Pandemic or not, employee morale is critical to avoiding burnout and job dissatisfaction. EVS teams are in a unique position, as their role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is more often behind-the-scenes but just as worth honoring.  

In order to boost your EVS team's morale during this particularly challenging time:  

  • Remind them frequently of the important contributions they make toward patients 

  • Celebrate victories, such as career milestones, birthdays, or COVID-19 recoveries. 

  • Provide resources and tools, such as those related to childcare or employee crises, and CDC updates 

  • Implement regular team huddles to communicate important information, give positive feedback, and engage in interaction exercises (such as asking them what they are thankful for today) 

  • Supply access to an energy bank full of healthy snacks and drinks to boost their physical and mental state 

  • Encourage breaks to allow workers to get some fresh air, stretch, or meditate 

It’s also important to talk to EVS teams about taking care of their well-being at home. This includes eating well, exercising frequently, and getting enough sleep.  

3. Monitor their stress frequently — and intervene, if necessary.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on healthcare workers unlike any other. Long hours, high risk of infection, and significant uncertainty — all of this can lead to anxiety among EVS workers.  

The Mental Health Toll of Previous Epidemics 

For up to 2 years after the SARS epidemic of 2003, healthcare workers in Toronto — a city hit hard by the epidemic — had notably higher levels of burnout, psychological stress, and post-traumatic stress.  

Now is the time to support healthcare organizations as they look after their employees. One way to do this is through surveys. For instance, the American Medical Association (AMA) has released two no-cost surveys that healthcare organizations are free to use to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on their employees.  

Therapists or support groups should also be available, especially to those with signs of mental health concerns. It would also be beneficial to extend such offers to families of workers, who are also worried and strugglings with different and related stressors. 

Environmental services teams are a critical part of keeping patients safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their wellbeing needs to be taken into consideration now more than ever. This falls largely on their workplace, who can take simple — but effective — steps in reassuring EVS teams they are being cared for.  

Do you have questions about taking care of your EVS teams’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic? Learn more about what our teams do for each other. 

 

June 02, 2020

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