We have the privilege of hearing lots of stories from patients about what makes Mayo Clinic unique. One thing that comes up, time after time (after time), is the housekeeping staff. Patients tell us about housekeepers who deliver an encouraging word, a smile on a hard day, a promise to pray for a sick child. All in addition to the bang-up job they do keeping patient rooms and public spaces spotless. It happens enough to get even us thinking.
"A lot of people think we just clean. Some people fail to realize how much these people really care," Corey Keene, an Environmental Services supervisor, tells us. "Our staff have to be productive, but they balance that with compassion."
To help put that into perspective, we reached out to a few members of Mayo's housekeeping team to learn more about what they do, and why they do it, for Mayo's patients. How is it that they make such an impression on patients? Here's what they told us.
Dana Walker's approach to connecting with patients is straightforward: "I talk to patients and try to be human with them," he tells us. And while that may be simple, it isn't always easy. "Each person is different, and each room is different. And they're different every day. The person could have gotten good news, they could have gotten bad news."
That means Walker and other housekeeping staff have to become experts at reading a room. "You can feel the atmosphere," he says. "You learn to tell if people are sad or happy, or just want you to get out."
Walker works to find common ground with patients, and he often finds it in four legs and fur. "I can't tell you how many people have pictures of their dogs in their rooms," he tells us. "It's a great ice breaker. I'll ask, 'Who are those guys?' They'll tell me how much they miss their fur babies, and I'll show them pictures of my giant fur babies. I try to break up the monotony of blood draws and pokes and prods. I try to take people's mind off the negative."
Vicky Stenberg was lost. "All my children grew up, and I was blue," Stenberg tells us. "I was depressed." Her daughter, a nurse at Mayo Clinic, suggested Stenberg apply for a housekeeping position. "She said, 'Mother, you've always enjoyed cleaning and you're really good at it.'"
That was 18 years ago, and Stenberg tells us she hasn't had a blue day since. "Getting a job was life-changing for me," she says. "I say thank God and God bless Mayo. It gives me something to get up for."
While she's cleaning, Stenberg tells us she looks for ways to keep patients comfortable. She'll offer warm blankets or help patients find something to watch on TV. She also keeps an eye out for potential safety hazards and assists visitors looking for directions to elevators or restrooms. It's all part of what Stenberg sees as her purpose in life.
"We're all here to serve others in one way or another," she says. "I'm here to help people. That's where God is leading me. I feel that this is my place now."
When people learn that Kada Dudakovic works in a pediatric intensive care unit, they often have the same question: How do you do it?
"They think it must be so sad," Dudakovic says. And while her heart aches for her patients and their families, it also rejoices with them. "People don't know how you feel when the kids get better, when you see them laughing and talking."
Dudakovic tells us she tries to find little ways to make her patients smile. One recent success came courtesy of a mop and bucket. "One kid was having a hard time," she says. "I would lift the mop and show her the water dripping. She stopped crying."
Dudakovic also keeps her patients' families in mind while she works. For example, "if a family is sleeping, I'll take garbage outside and empty it there so I don't wake them up," she tells us. "It's not easy to be in the hospital. I put myself in their place."
That's something Keene, her supervisor, tells us Dudakovic does extraordinarily well. "Kada connects with patients and families on a level most people couldn't," he tells us. "She's able to mirror patients. If they've had a hard day, she steps back. If they've had a good day, she's able to be happy with them. It's inspirational to see."
For Dudakovic, it's also deeply meaningful.
"It means a lot to me to go into a patient's room and get a smile," she tells us. "I'm so proud I'm working at Mayo Clinic. I love my job."
We'd love it if you left a comment below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.