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COVID-19 a challenge to non-medical workers in Oklahoma hospitals

Rosa Torres
Rosa Torres

It's not uncommon for Rosa Torres to don personal protective equipment when she walks into a hospital room.

She never imagined that wearing a body suit would become routine, since she's not a medical professional at St. Anthony Hospital. But it has become routine nonetheless.

Torres is among the many care providers at the medical facility who are helping battle COVID-19. She's an environmental services professional who sanitizes patient rooms and other areas of the hospital.

Often working behind the scenes, the Oklahoma City woman is perhaps one of the unsung heroes of the pandemic whose work disinfecting medical facilities became even more important in the wake of the deadly coronavirus.

Torres, 35, said she's just doing her job, but she understands her vital role.

"I've been doing this for about 19 years. I knew it was very important to keep the hospital clean. We're the ones keeping the germs down," she said.

Karin Peters of Yukon, an environmental service professional at Integris-Canadian Valley, feels much the same way.

"I always felt that I was born to serve. I like to help," she said.

Both women said they were scared the first time they had to put on body suits to clean and disinfect COVID wards or intermediate care units because it brought home the serious nature of the virus.

They soon grew accustomed to the safety protocols.

"My first thought was it was very scary because it was unknown and there wasn't a lot of information about it," Peters said. But "it was just about getting in there and doing what I normally did and the hospital was always good about letting people know what was happening."

Torres said she found the first two or three weeks of the pandemic at work "a bit stressful."

"I had really bad anxiety,” she said.

She eventually found a way to calm her concerns about contracting the virus by deciding to "think about other things and not talk about COVID itself."

'All hands on deck'

Several health care leaders like Kerri Bayer said they knew how important staff like Torres and Peters have been in the ongoing efforts to keep their medical facilities sanitized.

Bayer, chief nurse executive at Integris Health, said these professionals, like many others, accepted the COVID-19 challenge in "all hands on deck" fashion.

"Their workloads have increased and in many cases they too were following new stringent personal protective equipment protocols as they shared their professional expertise, took on new roles and provided a stable environment for care to be delivered," she said.

"I'm thankful for the role all of our caregivers have played as each has had an integral role and are the reason we will beat the coronavirus."

Tammy Powell, president of SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital, agreed that environmental service staff members have been an integral part of the team fighting COVID-19.

"Our environmental service professionals are a critical component of our work at SSM Health St. Anthony every day," she said, "but their role has been especially key during the pandemic.

"Because of them, our patients and employees can rest easy knowing they are in the safest place possible, even during a pandemic."

Sanitizing 'the whole nine yards'

Torres said some of her family members were initially apprehensive about her working at the hospital.

Peters, 59, said her 87-year-old mother wasn’t worried.

"I talked with my mom and she said as long as they (hospital) are taking care of you, I’m fine," Peters said. "And they have always taken care of me. I have always said I felt more protected at work than when I wasn’t there."

Torres' lengthy career and her professionalism helped overcome her relatives' concerns.

She said she is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting about 20 rooms per day. This includes sanitizing anything "within a hand's reach" on all surfaces, phones, remote controls, door knobs, beds and mattresses. Torres said floors and restrooms — "the whole nine yards" — must be disinfected.

She said she will be grateful for a return to normalcy, particularly because she hasn't been able to see her extended family outside Oklahoma.

These days, she happy to have received the COVID-19 vaccine so she's optimistic about the future.

Peters said she also has been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

She said she was apprehensive about it at first, but she was part of a large group of hospital staff that received the vaccine at the same time and that made her feel more comfortable.

Peters said she's grateful for the vaccine but she will continue providing services in the same cautious way she has throughout the pandemic.

"I enjoy my work and I enjoying being around patients. I enjoy making their day a little brighter," she said.

Related Photos
<strong>Karin Peters</strong>

Karin Peters

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Karin Peters " title=" Karin Peters "><figcaption> Karin Peters </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Rosa Torres " title=" Rosa Torres "><figcaption> Rosa Torres </figcaption></figure>
Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›