Sheenda Hawkins, Paz Santibanez and Elsa Penate-Cortez,  University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
When volunteers were needed to perform deep cleaning on the higher-risk COVID-19 floors, Hawkins (left photo), Santibanez and Penate-Cortez (left-to-right) were among the first to step up.

Many employees across the country have been able to shift their workdays to the safe confines of their homes for the foreseeable future. For frontline custodians, however, being an essential employee nullifies this option. Feelings of apprehension would be understandable, especially for those working in the healthcare facilities where the presence of COVID-19 can be inevitable.

Yet for custodians Sheenda Hawkins, Elsa Penate-Cortez and Paz Santibanez at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the elevated challenge was met not only with an absence of fear, but with unprecedented levels of enthusiasm to step up when the hospital needed professional cleaning the most.

“Once we knew we had to make some adjustments due to the pandemic, all three ladies volunteered to work on the COVID-19 floors to complete the daily and terminal cleans,” says Babette Beene, environmental services manager at MD Anderson. “I find their willingness admirable.”

Reflecting on the five plus years that Hawkins, Penate-Cortez and Santibanez have each worked full-time at the center, it came as no surprise to Beene that all three care about the patients’ well-being as much as the doctors and nurses.

“They just want to ensure that our patients are in a safe, clean environment so that they can go home and be with their families,” says Beene.

Having experienced members of the cleaning department take positive initiative against challenges head-on is vital in these trying times, especially for less-tenured custodians who may be looking for some needed courage and inspiration of their own.

“All three ladies love what they do and have encouraging words for the people they’re working with on the floor,” says Beene. “They never say ‘no, it’s not my job.’”

Each month this section will recognize an outstanding frontline janitor. To nominate a deserving employee, email