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Unsung heroes of the pandemic: Environmental services workers

As an EVS worker at the Cleveland Clinic, Shantel Hicks not only cleans rooms; she truly cares for patients.

CLEVELAND — As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, it's still important to thank those health care heroes who put everything on the line to protect us.

But while the scientists, doctors and medical professionals have gotten much deserved praise, it can be easy to overlook some of the most essential workers on the front lines. People like Shantel Hicks, an environmental services worker at the Cleveland Clinic.

Hicks says, the job requires so much more than cleaning rooms.

"[My job is all about] greeting them, making them feel comfortable while they're staying there," Hicks explained. "I think you should have a connection with everybody that comes inside of the room, because when you're in a room, that's like your home. ... I think anybody that comes inside your room, you should have that connection with them."

During the pandemic, Hicks says the pressures increased, and so did the risks to herself.

"I had some patients that just couldn't move, [but] that's what made me want to go in the rooms more," she said. "Seeing them not being able to move and do [things] for themselves, it just touched me a lot. I just felt, 'What if my family got [the virus]? Would I treat them different?'"

Hicks says she was so touched by her patients, she voluntarily took on more duties - including brushing one patient's hair.

"I will always go in there and brush and comb his hair for him because he likes his ponytail done," she remembered. "When I [came] into work, all I was caring about was the patients at that moment."

And now, her care will soon translate from environmental services to a full-time career, still in the medical field. She is graduating this month from a medical billing program at Bryant & Stratton College.

As for her time working in environmental services, Hicks says it's a job she'll always be proud of. 

"A lot of people think it's easy, but it's really not easy," she said. "You really have some housekeepers that care for their patients."