The Meaning of Care Magazine
‘More Than Cleaning’: Housekeeper Finds Purpose in Providing The Meaning of CarePublished: Dec. 12, 2022
It was shortly after 10 p.m. on a Friday in August when Salina Ward, a cleaning technician at Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center (MECC), heard a knock on a nearby window.
An elderly woman – dressed in a robe and holding a box of medication – was visibly upset, crying and shaking.
“I ran to the door and said, ‘Oh, are you lost? What’s wrong? What do you need?’” Ward said. “She told me she wanted to kill herself. I said, ‘Oh, no, no.’ I hugged her and called for security.”
Ward assisted Methodist security officer Matt Sahlfeld in getting the woman into a wheelchair and across the street to Methodist Hospital’s Emergency Department.
“I don’t know, I think maybe God sent me to help save her,” said Ward, whose first name means heaven. “Like maybe I was meant to be her angel that night.”
And when an MECC infusion patient went into respiratory arrest just a few days later, Ward, who’d just started her cleaning shift, quickly switched gears. She began clearing the area to make room for response teams while taking direction from the two infusion nurses working.
“She definitely could have left,” said one of the nurses, DJ Anderson, BSN, RN. “In fact, a lot of people probably would have out of fear they’d be in the way. But she knew we really needed her, so she stayed until the situation was covered.”
Anderson, who’s known Ward for nearly a decade, wasn’t surprised by the housekeeper’s actions and said it’s the perfect example of what Methodist is known for.
“Stepping out of your scope of practice if it means helping the patient,” Anderson said. “It’s what we’re all about.”
“It’s what I love to do,” Ward said.
In Search of the American Dream
Ward wasn’t always so keenly aware of her deep-rooted passion for helping others.
She left the Philippines in 1980 at age 20 to chase her American dream – moving to California to help her mother manage an apartment complex.
With no housekeeping experience and only a high school education, Ward was put in charge of tidying each room whenever tenant leases were up, developing a remarkable knack for cleaning.
“Oh, I loved it,” she said. “It took my mind off things, you know? When I got started doing this or that, it was just kind of – I don’t know – relaxing.”
But after nearly 30 years of cleaning apartments, she yearned for something more.
The single mother headed for Nebraska with her two teenagers in tow.
“One of the Good Ones”
In 2008, Ward arrived in Omaha, where her sister was living at the time. In search of a housekeeping job, she applied to be part of the environmental services (EVS) team at Methodist Hospital.
“I applied, they interviewed me, and I got hired right away,” she said with a delighted laugh.
Ward, who’s in charge of cleaning the MECC infusion center, has grown quite a fan base in her 14 years at Methodist.
“We love her,” Anderson said. “And we can always tell if she’s gone or someone fills in for her. That’s nothing against any other cleaning tech – our entire EVS staff is great and thorough. But no one cleans quite like her.”
“Just walking her area shortly after I started at Methodist, I could tell immediately she was one of the good ones,” said Russ Dimmock, who’s served as Methodist Hospital’s EVS director for the past three years.
But Dimmock quickly learned that his employee’s assets went far beyond her impeccable self-taught cleaning skills.
“I often see her stepping out of her role to help out,” he said. “Like escorting someone from the cancer center to the hospital – she’ll never just point in the direction and tell someone who needs help where to go. She does things she’s not required to and lifts her coworkers up. She’s always in a good mood and always willing to help.”
Why She Stays
Although a clean, sterile environment is critical to the health and safety of patients and providers, “we’re seen as kind of the low man on the totem pole,” Dimmock said of nearly everyone in the cleaning industry.
“It’s grunt work,” he added. “And it’s not every day we get thanked for a job well done.”
But for Ward, it’s never been about recognition – even in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic when health systems across the country were hit with staffing shortages.
“The people who are truly here for the patients are the ones who stayed,” Dimmock said. “Salina was one of them.”
“Everyone has their own story – their own reason for staying,” said Josie Abboud, president and CEO of Methodist Hospital and Methodist Women’s Hospital. “Whether it’s a patient or employee, it’s not uncommon that people keep coming back to the culture, compassion and expert care that Methodist embodies.”
And although Salina came to Methodist to be closer to family, she became part of a bigger family.
“I love my coworkers,” she said. “I’d do anything for them.”
Although she came to Methodist for more opportunity, she discovered her purpose.
“I’m here to help – to make a difference, you know? The Meaning of Care.”
And with no plans of retiring anytime soon, The Meaning of Care is why she stays.
“I love my job. To me, it’s more than cleaning. My future is Methodist. I’m not going anywhere.”
Do you want to be part of The Meaning of Care? Visit bestcare.org/jobs and take the first step toward finding your purpose through a meaningful career.