Celebrating the Humans Behind EVS: Marcelino Contreras and Shay Craft
This EVS Week, we’re recognizing the heroes of Hospital Environmental Services.
We sat down with EVS Team Members from SFS user Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center to talk about how they took care of each other during COVID, the similarities between EVS workers and firefighters, and how small tokens of appreciation can make a big difference.
Shay Craft, Housekeeper Attendant
Shay had been wanting to work for Kaiser for years, so when she found out they were hiring, she jumped at the opportunity. “I was nervous [during the first interview],” she said. “But I did pretty well, and then they called me back for the next one, and next thing I knew, they asked if I wanted to work for Kaiser. I was like “‘Yes! This is my dream right here!’”
While Shay had experience in custodial work, working in a hospital environment for the first time was an adjustment.
“It was a big difference,” she said. “But I had wonderful trainers. They made me feel comfortable enough to be confident in what I had to do.”
While the initial adjustment might have been overwhelming, now that she has been with the hospital for over eight years, nothing fazes her anymore. “It can be a lot,” she admits. “But I don’t really think about it. When I go in, I’m prepared to handle whatever comes my way.”
It helps that her team is so proactive about expressing appreciation, Shay said. “After a really busy day, to hear from a manager, a lead, even one of my coworkers say thank you, is a little token that can go so far. It makes me feel appreciated, like I’m part of a team. I’ve worked in jobs where you’d come in and bust your butt and nobody ever acknowledged your work. So that small effort means a lot to me.”
Of course, the big things help, too. One of Shay’s most memorable moments occurred after entering a raffle during a holiday party. “My manager came in with this huge present wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper, and obviously I wasn’t going to wait for Christmas to see what was in it, so I opened it, and it was a Keurig! I was in heaven, because I love coffee. I was like, ‘how did they know?’”
But at the end of the day, what makes her feel most empowered is that her team makes her feel valued, and respects her contributions. “We have a team that we can give ideas to help make the operations run more smoothly. Not that many employers listen to their employees like that. So I love that they take our input.”
For her manager, Andrew Lopez, showing appreciation for Shay is a no-brainer. “Shay is someone who works wherever she is needed.
During the pandemic, she worked everywhere, whether it was a COVID room or not. She’s definitely a team player, and I can always rely on her when it comes to making sure the area is clean and that members are happy.”
After almost a decade working in EVS at Kaiser, Shay still considers it her dream job. “It’s an awesome job: the benefits, having the opportunity to move up if I want to, having a say in my work,” she says. “I just love the atmosphere. Everybody helps each other out. My coworkers make it nice for me to come to work, and my managers are always there if I need anything.”
“Plus, I work in postpartum with the mommies, so I get to see the babies,” she adds, with a smile. “That’s the ultimate thing: being able to see all the babies.”
Marcelino Contreras, EVS Lead/Acting Supervisor
Marcelino Contreras has worked in EVS for over twenty years. “I started in 2001, and my interview day was on 9/11,” he said. “I applied for this housekeeping position without knowing what I was going to get into. But I’ve learned a lot.”
Five years ago, Marcelino was promoted to lead. “As EVS Lead, he is the face of our department,” said Andrew Lopez, Marcelino’s manager. “He’s very dependable and trustworthy, and I can always rely on him when I need something done. He’s also a great trainer. He is dedicated to training new hires on proper protocols, and ensuring that everything goes as smoothly as possible.”
Training is one of Marcelino’s favorite parts of his job.
“I’m always willing to train everybody the right way. [Because] It’s playing a big role for the entire hospital—not only for the hospital, but for the community, for patients who are basically living here.
“Every day is a challenge. Housekeeping is an endless job. There will always be something dirty tomorrow for us to clean. If the hospital was clean, we wouldn’t have a job. So I always say thanks to everyone who makes it dirty” he said, with a laugh. “That’s what we’re here for. we’ll clean it up again.”
In the face of work that can sometimes feel overwhelming, the most important thing, Marcelino often reminds his staff, is to keep showing up, and stay positive. “I always tell people that the hardest part in the morning is to get up. When you hear your alarm, just throw your left foot out of the bed and hop out and do what you got to do.
“We’re like firefighters, you know? We get a call, go help them out. Put out that fire. Move on to the next one. By the time you notice, you’ve worked eight hours and you can go home feeling good, because you did something good for our hospital.”
Marcelino takes his responsibility seriously, because Kaiser South Bay isn’t just his workplace; it’s his hospital. “I think we’re all probably going to be in a hospital at some point,” he said. “Hopefully not too soon, but we might, one day. This is our hospital. We live close by. So we want to treat it like our own home and keep it clean for them.”
The weight of his responsibility to his hospital and community became even more real during the pandemic. “We were seeing people fall in front of us,” he said. “It was very traumatizing. I saw three people code in one day that didn’t survive. I would find our receptionist crying off to the side, and I would try to tell them to keep their head up and be strong and we would fight this virus together.”
While it was one of the hardest experiences he’s ever faced as an EVS worker, he also looks back with pride at how they banded together to take care of patients and protect each other.
“A lot of us looked out for each other,” he said. “I have a coworker who wanted to leave in 2020 because of the fear of losing her life or taking COVID back home to her husband. She wanted to retire with all her benefits, but we could only take her benefits after 15 years, [and she still had two years left]. I didn’t want her to lose those benefits. So I told her, ‘Don’t worry if you don’t feel like going into these COVID rooms. I’ll go in there, and I’ll just hand you the trash out the door.’” His coworker made it through the pandemic, and was able to retire earlier this year, with lifetime benefits.
That sense of community extended to all of the teams throughout the hospital, Marcelino said. “People really helped each other out. We had nurses pulling out the trash for us so that we wouldn’t have to go in [the COVID rooms]. A lot of people played a big role in protecting each other.”
When he thinks back on his time as an EVS worker, this is what stands out most to him. “We’ve had our ups and downs here in the hospital, but there was a lot of teamwork.”