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In Mayo ICU, the cleaning routine is the same; it’s the heartache that’s new

Elissa Marty's among dozens of environmental services employees who work behind the scenes at Mayo to keep rooms clean and safe for patients — essential, front-line work that’s become even more essential during the pandemic.

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Wearing full PPE, Mayo Clinic environmental services worker Elissa Marty cleans the ICU room of a COVID-19 patient while the patient is out of the room for treatment at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, Minn., on Dec. 31, 2020. (Evan Frost / MPR News 2020)
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Elissa Marty's days begin on the sixth floor of a building on Mayo Clinic's sprawling St. Marys campus, in the 12-bed intensive care unit where patients with the most severe cases of COVID-19 are being treated.

She’s among dozens of environmental services employees who work behind the scenes at Mayo to keep rooms clean and safe for patients — essential, front-line work that’s become even more essential during the pandemic.

She's in and out of patient rooms all day, but even when she is cleaning a room that's occupied, she said, she doesn't often talk to the patients.

"I try to send out good energy in the room,” she said. “So it's at least a little nice in there."

At this point, Marty said, her work is on autopilot.

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"I suit up, I go in and I bring in my equipment and I disinfect and mop the floor and pull trash,” she said. “Then I don off, I disinfect all my equipment, wash up my hands and go on to the next room, and repeat."

In many ways, Marty said, her job isn't much different than it was before COVID-19 arrived: Her focus, still, is thorough disinfection and cleaning.

But there are things that have changed.

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Environmental services worker Elissa Marty puts on a face shield as part of her PPE before entering the room of a COVID-19 patient to do routine cleaning at St. Marys Hospital. (Evan Frost / MPR News)

For starters, the gear: Everyone who goes inside patient rooms in the COVID-19 unit wears masks, gowns and gloves to protect themselves from the virus. And in some ways, Marty said, she feels safer in the ICU than she does out in public.

"You don't know what people are going to do out there. You don't know if they're going to do their part, and wear their mask, or do their hand-washing or keep their social distancing,” she said. “I feel safer here at work than I do out there in the world."

And, like her colleagues, Marty also carries with her, wherever she goes, the burden of the heartache she sees at work.

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Sometimes, when she's cleaning an empty room, it's because a patient has gotten better, and is moving to another part of a hospital to continue their recovery.

Other times, it's because the patient has died.

When she goes home at night, Marty and her husband have a rule.

"We leave work at work,” she said. “We try not to bring that home with us."

But some days, she said, it's a rule that's difficult to follow.

"As much as I work on a COVID floor,” she said, “sometimes it's hard not to bring that home — what you see on a daily basis — and not go home and cry.”

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Environmental services worker Elissa Marty pushes her cart of cleaning supplies to a medical ICU unit at St. Marys Hospital. Evan Frost / MPR News 2020)

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