Celebrating the Humans Behind EVS: Teresha Bivins and Antonio Castillo
This EVS Week, we’re recognizing the heroes of Hospital Environmental Services.
We sat down with two Housekeeping Head Aides from Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center and their manager to talk about what it was like to start working during COVID, handling surprise floods, and treating your patients like family.
Antonio Castillo, Housekeeping Head Aide
Antonio Castillo started in EVS at the height of the pandemic, after having spent over 25 years in grocery store management.
“The week that Antonio started he and I ran side by side,” Cortney Marshall, his manager, said. “I was the lead at that point, and he was absorbing everything I was doing. So from day one, he had an edge.”
Though he’s only been working in EVS for eighteen months, the knowledge that he’s gained in that short time has developed him into a wonderful leader, according to Cortney.
“I call him my co-pilot. In stressful situations I can always count on him. He’s one of our main moving parts. We see his name on the schedule, and it puts us at ease.”
“Going from a place that I had worked for 26 years to being a rookie, I knew I would have to show humility,” Antonio said. “Even now, as a lead, I have to show humility, because my housekeepers in many instances know more than I do. There are people in our department who have a wealth of knowledge. So if I don’t know something, there are always resources. And that’s really important, because there are still a lot of things I don’t know.”
Antonio started in EVS in January 2021, when the pandemic was going strong. “I’d been very fortunate in that I had never encountered it on a personal level, and now all the sudden I was surrounded by it,” he said. “I wasn’t afraid, per se, but I was very concerned because here it was: in real life. So I had to hit the ground running, and learn quickly.”
It helped that Antonio always feels supported by his management when issues come up. “It’s a big relief. On the days where I feel like I’m walking a tightrope, I know I have a net underneath me. They’re always there for me, and they’re very good about letting me know that they appreciate me, and making me feel valued. It’s a really good environment.”
That appreciation shows when things go wrong—like the time the upstairs bathroom in the radiology department flooded, and water poured into the waiting room downstairs. “That was memorable because it was my first big calamity,” he said, with a laugh. “But the way everyone came together was awesome. Nobody dawdled, everyone just came and did what we had to do. It was all hands on deck: eight of us working together with four machines to suck up the water. We had squeegees so we could skate the water out of the bathroom into the waiting area to suck it all up. It looked like organized chaos,” he said, with a laugh. “But we got it done. Half an hour later, everything was cleaned up and gone and we could all just get back to our duties.
“It was a good feeling. Knowing that when something happens, everybody pulls together to take care of business.”
The sense of teamwork is a huge part of what keeps Castillo motivated to keep showing up every day. “I’ve always worked, you know? It’s just what I do. I’ve been working since I was 16. I have a wife and five children, so I need to provide for my family. But the bonus is that I actually really enjoy what I do. And that really does make all the difference. I go home at the end of the day feeling very good about myself and my job here, because I know I’ve contributed.”
Teresha Bivins, Housekeeping Head Aide
As the full-time lead of the hospital, Teresha Bivins is “basically the face of the department,” her manager, Cortney, told us. “She is a huge asset. We really rely on her when we are in tough situations, and under no situation has she ever cracked or failed.”
For Teresha, her work always comes back down to the patient. “For me, it’s one patient at a time, one room at a time, one problem at a time.”
Knowing that she can make a difference in saving a patient’s life, and being there for them during difficult moments, is what keeps Teresha motivated to keep coming into work every day.
“During the height of COVID, when there were no visitors, the only people patients would see were [clinical] staff and EVS,” she said. “So I felt like it was my job to go in there and make them as comfortable and safe and happy as possible. That’s what drove me to want to come to work.
“You want to treat each room and each patient like they’re your own family member. If your family members were to come in, you wouldn’t want them to be in a place that was dirty. You want to treat them as if it was your mother, your child, your father.”
Her manager, Cortney, told us that Teresha was invaluable when it came to supporting and setting the example for her fellow workers during COVID. “We were in such a stressful time, and she just set the tone for everyone. She’s always been an overall example of how things should be done. She really bridges the gap between management and employees. Her peers can go to her for anything.”
“COVID was one of my biggest challenges,” Teresha said. “Everybody was scared. We didn’t understand what was happening: watching the news, seeing the body count, there was so much fear of just going into the room, thinking you were going to get COVID. But we had to go inside the room. We had to clean it and disinfect it properly so we could stop the spread.”
The training and support she received went a long way in making her feel more at ease. “Once we were properly trained, I had the skills and knowledge to train other people and make them feel comfortable as well. I was also able to take some skills home with me to make my family feel safe, too.” It helped that she always felt that she had the support of her team. “They’re always on my side to support me, and to help me understand everything that I need to know to help people and keep them safe,” she said.
Still, she wishes that more people understood the role that EVS played during the height of the pandemic. “You know, EVS was on the front lines, and a lot of people didn’t recognize that,” she told us. “People would call out the nurses and the firefighters, but EVS played a very important role and sometimes they get overlooked. But knowing for myself the part that I played in it, that I could help save a life: it meant a lot to me.”
Looking back, she feels prouder than ever of her work in EVS, and the difference she’s made—and continues to make—in patients’ lives.
“I don’t have to be a nurse and I don’t have to be a doctor,” she says. “I am still a hero, and I am still saving lives. That’s enough for me.”