Unsung heroes of the pandemic: Kaiser Westside praises housekeeping staff

Special Reports

The head of Kaiser Westside Medical Center says the housekeeping staff members have helped save lives.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Throughout the pandemic, nurses, doctors and physicians have been praised for caring for COVID-19 patients, but there are other unsung heroes working in the hospital who have helped save lives and prevent the spread of the virus. 

Jami Ortiz and Jonathan Nguyen both work in the Environmental Services, or housekeeping, department at Kaiser Westside Medical Center. 

When the pandemic hit, their job duties increased immensely. Both of them have helped clean the hospital’s COVID-19 unit for the last 14 months. 

“It’s impacted my job very seriously because we’re on the front line with the nurses,” Ortiz said. “I clean the rooms to make sure that they’re sanitized for the next patients that come in… and I also sanitize each area to make sure that the nurses don’t get sick either.” 

Like health care workers, Ortiz and Nguyen have suited up in personal protective equipment day after day to help prevent the spread of the virus. 

They told KOIN 6 News the pandemic has been scary. Both are afraid of bringing the virus home to their families. They said they take their clothes off before walking into their homes and shower immediately when they get home from work. 

Ortiz and Nguyen both started working at Kaiser on the same day. Ortiz says Nguyen is her best friend and Nguyen said they take care of each other. When one of them needs help, they call the other. 

In fact, both say everyone they work with is incredibly supportive, even their managers. 

“Makes me feel comfortable when I come to the hospital. I know that if I [do] not do my job or I’m down, you know, everybody around me, they support me. So, I really love it,” Nguyen said. 

He and Ortiz both mentioned how much they especially appreciate James “Jay” Robinson, the head of the hospital, who has at times donned the necessary PPE and helped them clean the COVID unit.  

Robinson, whose official title is hospital administrator for Kaiser hospitals of the Northwest, says he feels Ortiz, Nguyen, and the entire Environmental Services team are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. He thinks they deserve more recognition for what they’ve done over the past year and credit for saving lives. 

“I’m so proud of the work that they do,” he said. “They truly sign their work every day by their smiles, by the work product, if you look at the way the floor shines, look at the way that the rooms glean, they truly sign their work and I couldn’t be more proud of a group of people.” 

Robinson says he’s worked with Ortiz and Nguyen for a long time and says they truly see themselves as part of the healthcare team. He said they want to reduce infections and make the hospital a place where people can heal easily. 

“That kind of commitment and dedication should be applauded and a lot of times we don’t think about acknowledging their efforts when we talk about our healthcare heroes,” he said. 

For Ortiz and Nguyen, the respect is mutual. 

“I feel that there are unsung heroes up there [in management] too because they’re the ones that took care of us and made sure that we were all OK,” Ortiz said. 

Both employees know the pandemic isn’t over yet. They said they’re continuing to sanitize and disinfect surfaces the best they can. They’re committed to coming to work every day to help keep patients and healthcare workers safe.  

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