Keeping It Clean for Patient, Staff Safety

UConn Health’s housekeepers are the front-line folks who don't provide patient care, but provide a safe, healthy environment for those who do. Housekeeping and Environmental Services Appreciation Week is Sept. 11-17.

Custodian and nurse speaking at entrance to patient room

Oleg Krupa (right) is a custodian who works primarily on the fifth floor of the UConn John Dempsey Hospital, speaking with nurse Ashley Tucker outside a patient room. (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

Oleg Krupa spends most of his working hours on the fifth floor of the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. He’s not trained to deliver patient care, but he works alongside those who are, and his work is vital to them delivering that care.

Krupa is part of UConn Health’s housekeeping workforce of more than 240, a combination of regular payroll and contract employees. He’s been at UConn Health in various capacities for 14 years, including the last six as a full-time custodian.

“It’s important to be here, to serve people, to help people, to help the whole hospital, to help whole medical units, to keep this hospital clean and safe,” Krupa says. “Safety is most important here.”

That mindset didn’t change in March 2020, when coming to work turned into a potential health hazard. For those on the front lines of health care, the COVID-19 pandemic turned their work into an even greater calling, and the housekeepers answered.

We knew we had a responsibility, and it was to keep everyone else in the hospital safe.
— Ulises Perez

“Normally I cover first shift, and I worked more because they needed more people covering night shift,” Krupa recalls. “Most important was constant disinfection of basically everything, all countertops, all handles. We were disinfecting all day and all night, constantly. And we always help the nurses, if they ask us to do something extra, if something happens with a patient, we can jump quickly to the room and clean quickly.”

Housekeeper cleaning sink in patient room
Pelagia Martinez cleans a sink in a patient room in the UConn John Dempsey Hospital. (Photo by Ulises Perez)

Pelagia Martinez, whose regular floor is the second, says, “Life through the pandemic was so stressful and scary to a point that I didn’t have an appetite. But it was my responsibility to come in to work.”

George Moses, the manager who oversees UConn Health’s custodial services, says these accounts are representative of the overwhelming dedication the housekeepers showed during the height of the pandemic, and continue to show today.

At one point in 2020, Moses brought in reinforcements from the contractor, SMG, to help with the workload, with the plan of rotating staff so those who were on COVID floors got some hours in other areas.

“We went to these individual floors and said we’re going to rotate them off so they’re not in the COVID areas every day,” Moses says. “They told us, ‘Oh, absolutely not, we’re staying with our people. This is our family on this floor.’ They had developed those relationships with the staff, and they told us, ‘Please don’t move us.’”

Ulises Perez has been part of the housekeeping staff since 2010 and became a supervising custodian earlier this year.

“Just like a nurse, they love and they’re passionate about their job, about serving the patients,” Perez says. “They didn’t want to go home because they wanted to stay. This is our home. These are our families. We knew we had a responsibility, and it was to keep everyone else in the hospital safe. Being a housekeeper at UConn Health is a huge responsibility, not just maintaining the cleanliness, it is keeping infections from spreading, which is our main goal.”

housekeepr with trash barrel and vacuum
Myriam Nevarez-Torres is one of more than 170 contracted housekeepers at UConn Health. She’s been working at UConn Health since 2015. (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

And they would gear up for work just like the clinical staff they joined on the front lines.

“It was a little bit stressful at first, but I put on a mask, double mask, N95, and shield, and I was working,” Krupa says. “I got three shots. I was OK. I was doing my job.”

“Other staff and visitors should recognize that we are a huge part of the UConn family,” Martinez says. “I believe the housekeepers and nurses have similar responsibilities to the patient. We all make sure that the patient’s health comes first. I believe we are all equal here at UConn Health.”

Perez says it’s easy to take good housekeeping staff for granted.

“We go above and beyond taking out the garbage,” Perez says. “We keep our patients, doctors, nurses, and everyone who works at UConn healthy and safe by keeping the facility clean. We also make sure the patients feel comfortable by engaging in positive conversation and having the room clean while they are here. We are a huge part of UConn’s priority team.”

UConn Health is observing Housekeeping and Environmental Services Appreciation Week, Sept. 11-17.

“I think the UConn Health community understands that we’re just like the rest of the staff,” Moses says. “We live in the community, we have families, and we’re just doing our jobs so others can do theirs.”

Perez adds, “A housekeeper will never think of themselves. We are always thinking of how to make everyone safe and happy. We are unique people.”

And Krupa takes satisfaction from that.

“I’m proud of myself to help and serve people, and I’m happy.”