These five unsung heroes volunteered to clean COVID-19 patients’ hospital rooms

These five unsung heroes volunteered to clean COVID-19 patients’ hospital rooms
Eugenio Mesa, Elizabeth Batista, Glenis Adames, Gustavo Borrero and Dennys Carrasco — members of the New York-Presbyterian environmental services team— are five unsung heroes on the front lines of the coronavirus battle. (Source: NEW YORK-PRESBYTERIAN)

(CBS News) - Doctors and nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic have rightly been hailed as heroes for putting their lives at risk to help others. But hospitals are full of other unsung heroes who are also going above and beyond — like the cleaning staff. A team of five housekeepers is being singled out for praise at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital after they volunteered to clean COVID-19 patients’ rooms.

The hospital’s environmental services manager, Erasmo Ramos, knew it might be challenging to find employees willing to take on the task. The environmental services team plays a critical role in protecting patients and employees. Through careful cleaning, they help prevent the spread of the virus — although they risk exposure themselves.

Five courageous staff members volunteered. “I’m really happy that this team came together and told me, ‘Erasmo, we can clean the rooms,’” Ramos said in a press release from New York-Presbyterian.

“Even though we are facing a difficult moment, they always come with that energy, and they always work together,” Ramos said. “They really inspire me as a leader.”

The five volunteer team members are Eugenio Mesa, Elizabeth Batista, Glenis Adames, Gustavo Borrero and Dennys Carrasco. They all said they are happy to play an important role at the hospital.

"What we do is very important. I wanted to be a part of this team because I want to make a difference," Gustavo Borrero said in the statement. "I want to help, like a lot of the people at the hospital who are doing their best to save lives. That's the reason I joined."

Glenis Adames said she loves seeing patients and the staff. “I feel like I’m saving a life, me cleaning up the room.” 

Another team member, Elizabeth Batista, also said the patients motivate her. “I put myself in patients’ shoes. And that’s what I have in my mind. I’ve got to do the best I can. As a human being, I care about the patient. We are here for them,” she said. 

Eugenio Mesa said he didn't hesitate to join the team. "I wanted to help save somebody's life, the same way all the nurses and doctors are saving people's lives," he said. "Everyone is united right now. Everyone plays an important role."

Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of hospital environmental services personnel “are among those most likely to be exposed to the virus and most essential to combating its spread,” write Kevin Tyan and Pieter A. Cohen, M.D., of Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance, in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

"These staff perform the arduous tasks of wiping down beds, cleaning bathrooms, and decontaminating hospital equipment. They are the unnoticed sinews of a well-functioning hospital. ... In the face of this pandemic, they are among the unsung heroes, the critical first line of defense against infection."

They also point out that these workers are lower paid and deserve to be valued more highly for their essential role in hospital safety.

“With the pandemic we have right now, it’s dangerous because if you’re not careful, you could take it to your home, to your family,” said NYP team member Dennys Carrasco. “But I still want to help. Because I think as we help, we can eliminate this little by little.”

Copyright 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.