STONY BROOK — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York, many public facilities had to quickly adjust to new safety guidelines.
For hospitals such as Stony Brook University Medical Center on Long Island, that also meant preparing the facility for an expected influx of patients. As this edition went to press, there were more than 81,000 confirmed COVID cases on Long Island, with more than 40,000 of that number in Suffolk County.
As the only public ‘safety net’ hospital in Suffolk County, Stony Brook cares for many patients who are unable to afford private hospitals.
To accommodate the large increases in patients, CSEA members working in the hospital’s Construction and Maintenance departments have had to extend themselves mentally and physically in ways they could have never foreseen.
Our members converted and renovated rooms throughout the hospital to increase safety for all hospital workers.
Members began by placing Plexiglas barriers throughout the hospital in areas that included security, cafeteria and the guest center to protect workers who deal directly with the general public.
Perhaps the hospital workers’ greatest venture was converting hospital rooms into rooms suitable for treating COVID-19. About 200 rooms at the hospital were remodeled.
“There were empty floors that needed to get renovated,” said Stony Brook Hospital Maintenance Supervisor I Sergio Cardenas. “The length of time it took to update the room depended on whether the room had to be completely renovated or just updated.”
“Some rooms took about four hours and others took a day and a half,” said Cardenas. “After a while, we developed such a good system that we were able to convert the last couple of rooms in about two hours.”
Pandemic changes plans
Before the pandemic hit, the hospital was planning to demolish the unused patient rooms in the hospital. After the number of patients began to grow, members were given the directive to begin renovating the rooms. The process included fixing outlets and plumbing issues as well as repairing ceiling and floor tiles.
After those steps were completed, workers began turning the room into a COVID-19 negative pressure room. In negative pressure rooms, the air is filtered so when one opens the door, the air does not leave the room and contaminate other rooms or hallways. In short, it keeps whatever air particles that are in a COVID-19 room confined to that space.
CSEA members also customized doors to increase worker safety.
“We ended up cutting glass panels into the doors to prevent the nurses from having to go into the COVID patient rooms every time they needed to check on a patient,” said Cardenas. “Through the glass, the nurses could do things like check a patient’s vital signs.”
Because the nurses were not going into and out of rooms as much, these glass doors helped the hospital workers better conserve their personal protective equipment (PPE) supply. Health care workers are required to change their PPE every time they leave a COVID-19 patient room, and at the beginning of the pandemic, many facilities were facing shortages of PPE.
Quick preparation pays off
At the beginning of the pandemic, information about COVID-19 was being updated so often that members had to be quick on their feet and willing to think outside of the box to address specific construction and maintenance issues.
For instance, members developed a maintenance kit that was stocked with whatever they needed to perform routine maintenance work. This action reduced the amount of time necessary to prepare a room for a new patient.
Our members also repurposed intravenous poles to create portable Plexiglas bassinets in the nursery.
If that were not enough, CSEA members volunteered during their break time to assemble PPE gowns.
“In the beginning, there was a shortage of people to help assemble PPE,” said Stony Brook Hospital Structural Maintenance Supervisor Freddie Eddins. “Hospital gowns needed to be assembled in the event there was a shortage and we couldn’t get supplies in. It was great to have people see that not only was CSEA providing critical services, we were also participating in other ways.”
Throughout the pandemic, CSEA workers have shown the utmost professionalism.
“I always tell our members to lead effectively, even when you’re not in charge,” said Eddins. “You never know who is watching or who you will be able to help with your work.”
— Wendi Bowie
Above, Trades Generalists Chis Brady and Frank Passarella convert and renovate a regular patient room into a COVID-19 negative pressure room. (Photos provided by SUNY Stony Brook Local President Carlos Speight)