Flexing with Fluid Work Assignments
The most successful environmental services departments are able to flex with change, both planned and unexpected. During the COVID-19 pandemic, EVS departments all over the country have been enduring the ultimate test of their adaptability. The pandemic is stretching EVS department resources in new and more volatile ways.
A common scenario EVS Departments have been facing throughout the pandemic:
Three EVS technicians test positive for COVID-19 and aren’t allowed to return to work for two weeks. A third of the EVS staff have been exposed to those 3 individuals. They must be tested due to possible exposure and aren’t allowed to return to work until their tests come back negative. But, a lag in test results means potentially healthy team members are unable to work for an extended time.
Other New Factors Affecting Work Assignments
New Sick Leave Policies
If employees report they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, they can take compensated sick leave out of a bank that doesn’t detract from their regular allotment of employer-sponsored sick time.
Employee Safety Concerns
Many EVS employees are concerned about contracting the virus or transmitting it to family members. Some are not willing or able to take on the risk or cope with the psychological strain of working on the front line and have resigned.
Terminal cleans for rooms of COVID-19 patients take longer. There are new cleaning assignments related to high touch points in common areas.
Some Loss of Flexibility
Once an employee has been assigned to a COVID-19 unit, they will not be moved to another area of the hospital to avoid cross-contamination. This takes away an EVS director’s ability to balance workloads and manage for productivity.
Unpredictable Hospital Volume
When the pandemic hit, many hospitals saw reduced volumes of elective surgeries and increased activity in urgent care and emergency departments. Elective surgeries, for instance, were stopped, affecting ORs, Lab, Radiology and inpatient volume. When patient volume is low, EVS departments aren’t able to keep staff on hand.
However, when the patient volumes spike, it is difficult to bring in unscheduled workers. While nursing staff have incentives for remaining on call and picking up extra shifts, EVS workers don’t. They are frequently working two jobs or have family commitments that reduce their flexibility to work overtime.
How EVS directors are responding to these challenges
EVS directors’ responses include deferring work, and in a few cases giving EVS technicians hazard pay. Some hospitals have had nurses and care techs cleaning COVID patient rooms to reduce the number of people who could be exposed.
Some EVS directors move workers cleaning non-clinical spaces to prioritized patient rooms, public areas, and nursing stations instead, resulting in ancillary areas getting a quicker cleaning. They may also reduce frequencies or processes in corridors (for example, opting for scrubbing only instead of sweeping, scrubbing, and polishing).
Many hospitals are focusing on protecting and bolstering their EVS staff to combat diminishing morale and fear of the virus. Montefiore Nyack Hospital in Nyack, NY contacted employee assistance to help staff manage the emotional toll of working during a pandemic, and created a “wall of warriors” to display photos of front line staff. Contracted staffing was used to supplement EVS staff during COVID-19 related absences to help manage the increased workload.
Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare provider, has implemented strategies specifically for protecting EVS workers, including expanding EVS staff, designating elevators for COVID and non-COVID patients and disinfecting them after each use, training EVS staff on donning and doffing PPE with the help of nursing educators, and providing in-service training on N95 mask usage.
Early in the pandemic one Smart Facility Software client had to dispatch administrative staff to clean an entire clinic in the system after the first case of COVID-19 came through.
The software helping EVS Directors Respond
Hundreds of Environmental services departments are using ES Optimizer and Service Optimizer, a software that builds and manages thorough, equitable work assignments. This software has the tools to accomplish this as well as quickly roll with the punches when it comes to staffing surprises with the scheduling and Short Staff Assignments Modules.
Mobile Communications App
With the mobile app, lists of completed tasks stay synchronized, so there’s no lack of communication. Team members can easily see which areas have already been handled by another staff member and which still need attention. They can also receive any new assignment in real time.
Short Staff Assignments
The Short Staff Assignments capability combines the critical work of multiple assignments into one.
Recent Mobile App Advancements that Expand Flexibility
The software evolved to address new volatility in work assignments based on ongoing customer feedback this year. Team Members can now schedule their own work assignments, project work, and short staff assignments on the fly (on their mobile device). This allows the team to remain flexible to the changing demands while still documenting the work that’s being done.