DSHS 24/7 workers come together to keep each other safe

Release Date: 
May 29, 2020

Conversations can shift in ways as varied as the Washington weather when talking to people working in 24/7 psychiatric care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. But one theme is repeated over and over again: We will get through this by working together.

“It’s been a huge team effort,” said Nanette Walling, Eastern State Hospital’s environmental services supervisor. “It takes a whole team to ensure that everyone is safe and sanitized, and everyone has stepped up to do their part and go above and beyond.”

Whether a person is working behind the scenes making masks or procuring protective gear; working directly with patients; cleaning high-touch areas, or screening fellow employees; the people working at DSHS facilities know they would have a much more difficult challenge without the support of their colleagues.

“I’ve been impressed with how much people have worked together for the common goal,” said Mark MacFarlane, the Special Commitment Center’s interim safety and risk manager.

Jay Lucas, a forms and records analyst at Western State Hospital, has gone all out to protect employees and patients. In the first weeks of the pandemic he worked every day to conduct screenings and do other tasks.

“I think that everybody makes a difference,” he said. “I will volunteer for everything because I want to show other people it doesn’t matter who you are, we’re on common ground.”

The feeling of unity and working toward the same goal – safety – prompted many to take on new roles. Susan Bordges, community resources program manager at Eastern State Hospital, is among a team who conducted COVID-19 screenings. She also helped set up signage and other safety elements throughout the hospital.

“Whenever there’s a need I try to help,” Bordges said. “If I can take some of the stress or load off others, I’m happy to help out.”

Justin Grimm, security guard at the Special Commitment Center, said the pandemic brought out other skills in his coworkers.

“I’ve seen real leaders come into the fold,” he said. “Everybody has been pitching in. It’s been nice to see during this crisis people go the extra mile to really make it work.”

Many DSHS facilities have employees working directly with residents. Others have people delving into data to learn best practices and create safe working spaces for their colleagues.

“Whatever I do, I do it with the frontline staff in mind at all times,” said Denise Martinez, the nurse training manager at the Child Study and Treatment Center. “It’s my way of doing anything and everything I can to help them. It makes it matter.”

Although she works at a different facility, WSH Medical Nurse Consultant Maria “Luisa” Elauria has seen how people have adapted to take on work that is normally outside of their purview.

“It’s a team effort,” she said. “I’m sure all of us are working hard to make this workplace better.”


(Story by Rob Johnson)