Healthcare Hero John Baez

John Baez of the Environmental Services Department at Staten Island University Hospital Photo: Lee Weissman, Northwell Health

The Angel of Environmental Services

In environmental services, we go above and beyond to make our patients feel comfortable and keep a clean environment. During COVID-19, we became their loved ones when their families couldn’t be there and helped comfort them in their final moments. I’ve faithfully worked for Staten Island University Hospital for eleven years, and travel three hours each way from my home in Yonkers on public transportation to help care for patients.

I’m not a clinical care provider, but my dedication to patient safety in the Environmental Services (EVS) Department is what I strive for. My co-workers and I are at the top of our field when it comes to bedside manner and being spirited patient professionals. Unfortunately, our team is no stranger to a crisis. We saw the hospital through the evacuation ahead of Hurricane Irene, the aftermath from Superstorm Sandy the following year, and even the Ebola crisis in 2014.

But COVID-19 was something entirely different and something we never faced before. It put the EVS team on the front line to help contain and eliminate the virus, which tested all of our abilities. When the crisis was at its peak, I remember seeing one case after the other. People begging for their life, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” Before coronavirus, I would always try to befriend and comfort the patients.

During the crisis, I showed them love when their loved ones couldn’t be at their bedside.

There was one day that would change me forever. It was a regular day, and then one of our patient care associates (PCAs) told me that this person is going to pass away. I knew the patient. I’d met her days earlier. It was the end of my shift and I was ready to take my first bus home, but I said to myself, “I can’t let this woman pass alone. I’m going to be there for her.”

I walked into the room and leaned over the patient and said, “It’s me, John. If you hear me, squeeze my finger.” She did. I told her, “I want you to go with God. I want you to relax and once you see the light, I want you to go to it. I’m going to hold your hand until you go.”

The PCA cried alongside me. I told the patient I would pray for her. On her third breath, she passed. The doctor came in and checked her vitals, and confirmed what I already knew—she was gone.

I took the two buses and three trains home, replaying the day in my head. It’s always going to be with me, the sadness that she couldn’t have a loved one with her, but I couldn’t let her die alone.

I did what many health-care heroes battling COVID-19 did: make the patients their second family and be their loved one. During this crisis, my mother was begging me to quit because we’re dealing with some- thing that’s new and scary. But we all have to be here. It’s our job. It’s what we signed up for.

The story of John Baez is adapted from the book Leading Through A Pandemic which is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

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