Environmental services staff members are the unsung heroes of patient care. Their work is often performed in the background, creating a clean and comfortable space with little fanfare. But when an organization takes time to recognize the impact environmental services has on quality of care and invests in it commensurately, patients win, clinicians win, and the health system wins.
Northside Hospital System in Atlanta, Georgia has done just that, and in the last five years its environmental services department has become one of the best in the nation, earning the Association for the Healthcare Environment’s Environmental Services Department of the Year Award two years back-to-back.
What’s the secret to its success? Fiona Nemetz, Director of Environmental Services, Safety, and Security say it’s “all about the basics.” But looking closer reveals that there’s more to the equation.
While a good, old-fashioned cleaning program is the backbone of any successful environmental services department, going beyond the basics takes a great team. Northside rigorously trains its environmental services staff to interact with patients, spending hours role-playing scenarios and potential problems to be ready to respond to almost any situation, starting with rapport building.
Building a rapport with patients sets them at ease. So staff members greet them daily, learning names and preferences and respecting patients’ privacy by avoiding topics like why they’ve checked in, which Nemetz says is not their bailiwick.
To further enhance the patient experience, Northside provides what they call a “White Glove Service,” which is akin to a hotel turn-down service so patients feel like honored guests during their stay. While not traditionally a part of environmental services, the staff at Northside goes out of its way to bring little comforts like tea and magazines to patients, making their days a little more bearable.
When Nemetz arrived at Northside she made one simple but profound change: outfitting the environmental services staff in the same flexible scrubs that nurses wear, visually emphasizing the partnership between clinical staff and environmental services. Nemetz says, “Hospital units where the environmental services staff are adopted as part of the care team always have the best outcomes, both clinically and nonclinically.”
The efforts that Northside has made to build a great environmental services team has paid off in vastly improved HCAHPS scores. Five years ago, scores related to the hospital environment placed Northside in the 48th percentile nationally. In the last year, they have placed in the 90th percentile for five out of 12 months. But Nemetz stresses that the department refuses to rest on its laurels. It’s next goal: helping Northside push its CMS Hospital Compare rating from four stars to five stars.