Hospital janitorial staff fight on the frontlines of COVID

Jul 17, 2020

KOLD ran this piece in response to our Healthcare Voices story from an environmental services worker  who was not able to get adequate PPE at work. Our Advocacy team sat with the employee during the interview to support them as they spoke to the press. After this news piece ran, policy changes at their place of work enabled them to more readily get the PPE they needed to feel safe.

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KOLD News 13 by Karly Tinsley – When you think about those on the front lines of COVID-19, you probably think of doctors and nurses first.

They have saved countless lives and worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic while trying to keep themselves safe.
But there’s also another group of hospital employees on the front lines too: janitorial staff.

Often referred to as Hospital Environmental Services (HES), these staff members are the ones who go into the rooms and clean them after a patient is discharged. Sometimes that means cleaning the room where a COVID patient was.

KOLD News 13 sat down with a local HES worker, who wished to withhold their name and place of employment for their safety.
The employee told us that when the pandemic started, they were not given masks right away and instead told they were okay because the virus wouldn’t be directly near their faces.

“I was afraid to go to work. I was afraid of what I would bring home,” said the employee. “We go into the room after the patient was there and sometimes there’s blood and needles, the bedding, sheets, and clothes–whatever is left from the patient being there we clean up. It was 2 to 3 weeks before we were given masks. At first we were told we were okay because it was just down by our feet, and the virus wouldn’t come up in our faces. And I was really worried.”

Now, they have N-95 masks but it’s still hard to get fresh ones since their supervisor has to be available to get it for them– often leaving them to wear the same one for weeks.

“Even though my mask is dirty, really dirty, I still need to keep wearing it because I can’t get a new one.”

KOLD reached out to Banner UMA, Tucson Medical Center and Carondolet St. Mary’s asking what they do to protect their janitorial staff.

Here’s what they had to say:


Banner team members are trained in infectious disease protection and follow detailed infection control protocols. These include the use of masks and frequent changing of gloves, repeated hand washing and the application of disinfectants. The wellbeing of the janitorial team – and all Banner employees – is of great concern to us and we are following the guidance of experts to keep them safe.


“All staff have access to appropriate PPE for cleaning and disinfecting throughout our facility including rooms in our COVID-19 units. We are supplying surgical masks, N95 respirators, isolation gowns, gloves, and eye protection to all staff that are patient facing when entering rooms on COVID-19 isolation precautions.

All Environmental Services staff have been trained on the proper cleaning and disinfecting processes to ensure that they are keeping themselves, the staff and our patients safe.

Additionally, the hospital has provided education to all staff to review proper donning and doffing of PPE, making sure that everyone is equipped with the knowledge to protect themselves. Our staff look out for one another and you can ask anyone to watch you don or doff PPE to ensure you are doing it safely. We also have our infection prevention specialists out in the environment doing observations and providing feedback.”

St. Mary’s:

“The safety of Carondelet’s patients and staff is paramount. Our facilities enforce universal masking and only permit correct, properly designed PPE to all of our staff. We have established social distancing measures throughout our facilities and conduct daily health screenings at our hospital entrance.”

But this employee says more needs to be done.

“I just want my job to give me a mask every week without me having to ask.”

That way it’s one less thing to worry about, especially when many employees come home to families with young children. It’s heartbreaking because they cry from the time I come in the door until I get out of the shower and come hug them.”

This employee says it’s also a reminder to everyone to keep their mask on, to lower the risk of hospital staff at every level.

“I love my job, I just want to feel safe.”

Some policies have changed for janitorial workers.

According to the employee, instead of cleaning a COVID room right away, they now wait 20-30 minutes before entering.