ALM Heroes: Keeping Calm, Washing Hands, and Doing Things With Great Love

The following article, written by David Bernstein, appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of Fresh Magazine, the journal of the Association for Linen Management (ALM). You may read the article below or see the original here.

AS TEAM MEMBERS FILE INTO West Michigan Shared Hospital Laundry (WMSHL) these days, it is easy to see that things are not the same as they were just a few months ago. Instead of greeting each other with handshakes or hugs, everyone maintains proper social distancing and waits in line to have their temperatures checked before they can enter the building. There is something else new these days: T-shirts with an image of hands being washed and the slogan, “Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands,” evoking the motivational posters displayed in Great Britain prior to and during World War II to help raise the public’s morale in the face of the Nazi blitz.

According to Amy Smith, director of human resources at WMSHL, “It’s an incredibly proud moment to watch your entire team pull together in the face of uncertainty; we are a part of the silent frontline. Every single person in our plant has had to dig deep. Many have feelings of fear and anxiety not only for themselves and their families, but also for their community and for the unknown future. Yet, everyone shows up, day in and day out.”

Smith likely speaks for the vast majority of her colleagues in the healthcare laundry industry, each of whom join WMSHL’s team members on the silent front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry — considered an “essential service” by the federal government as well as most state and local jurisdictions — has been forced to face and adapt to the new normal, while also finding ways to help others.

Rady Sim is a seamstress at Maine Medical Center Laundry and has worked there for 11 years. While her colleagues have been working seven days a week to provide vital scrubs and precaution gowns to support all of MaineHealth, she’s been using her skills and tools to make face masks for her team members’ use outside of work.

“I am tremendously proud and privileged to manage this group of special people,” said David Pelletier, Sims’ manager. “No questions asked they come to work each and every day to help get us through these challenging times.”

Intermountain Healthcare, the largest employer in Utah and the largest healthcare provider in the region, has been gearing up for the peak of the COVID-19 virus in their area. As hospital systems elsewhere found themselves in short supply of face shields for their medical staff, Intermountain’s caregivers (their catch-all term for all employees) went to work designing, fabricating and building face shields completely in-house. Twenty caregivers were redeployed to the manufacturing effort, producing 25,000 face shields per week, not only for Intermountain hospitals but also for the University of Utah healthcare system, the Veteran’s Administration and others in the area.

The healthcare laundry industry — considered an “essential service” by the federal government as well as most state and local jurisdictions — has been forced to face and adapt to the new normal, while also finding ways to help others.

“We are in such a critical need right now,” said Scott Schofield, director of Intermountain’s Supply Chain Solutions. “We wanted to make sure that [the medical staff] have the tools and the protection they need to provide care to our patients and to our community.”

The Intermountain Central Laundry is just 20 minutes up Interstate 15 from where Schofield and his team work, and that’s where Laura Thurston leads her team of caregivers. The laundry team includes, as Thurston said, “an amazing caregiver team,” who wanted to do what they could for the community, so they collected non-perishable food and monetary donations and dropped them off at the local food bank. The team is also participating with Intermountain to reprocess and redistribute cloth masks to the caregivers in the hospitals who are not working directly with patients. Among the team are two sisters who also donated 40 hours each of paid time off to help support their family members in China who were affected by COVID-19.

“They have shown a remarkable sense of dedication and pride in what they do to make a difference in the lives of those they serve at the hospitals and clinics,” said Thurston. “I am very proud of their teamwork and generous hearts.”

Speaking once again for her own team and the teams of her colleagues around the industry, WMSHL’s Smith summed it up best when she said, “We’ve always known we have an incredible team including doers, thinkers, researchers, communicators, planners, and cheerleaders, but the most important thing during these difficult times is that we all treat each other like family, with respect and empathy.”

Mother Teresa was once quoted as saying, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Despite the unprecedented and challenging times in which we all live, our industry as a whole and its individual members are showing how small things done with great love can help us all achieve greatness.