QUEENS, N.Y. - As the number of coronavirus cases surged Albania Gomez, a housekeeper on the environmental services team at LIJ Forest Hills hospital, was never busier.
“Oh my god. It was crazy,” Gomez said.
Her cleaning work sanitizing surfaces and floors became even more important and, because of the protective equipment she had to wear, more time consuming.
“The doctors are phenomenal, the nurses are amazing, but if we don’t clean, the bacteria stays, so I feel like everybody, we all play a part in the whole medical - everything that happened,” Gomez explained.
But Gomez also was busy because she often was asked to translate, becoming a conduit between doctors and nurses, and their patients.
“The fact that a lot more Spanish patients started coming in and they were in so much pain, they just wanted to be able to tell someone they were in pain, it was just brought to me, ‘Oh Albania, can you tell me what they need?,’” she said. “I would just run in there.”
“Everyone really wanted to step and to see our environmental workers such as Albania come in and translate for patients at the very last minute, ‘Can you tell them we are going to this procedure and help us explain to them what is going on,’” explained Dr. Armando Castro-Tie, director of surgery. He was redeployed during the crisis to treat patients with COVID-19.
But Gomez did more than translate. Sometimes, she stopped by to say hello and comfort patients who were alone, making a connection that could be healing in its own way.
“When they see someone who speaks the same language as someone at home, they feel little more at home especially at that time when they didn’t really have family,” she said.
The translation work born out necessity highlighted the importance of workers often taken for granted - hospital cleaners. It also brought the hospital team closer together.
“I always loved my job but right now - everybody counts,” Gomez said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, everybody counts, we are all important, we all play a part.”