Providing high quality healthcare means being there when it counts – not only at the bedside, but behind the scenes as well. The Union’s Facilities members play a vital role, even though many patients who pass through a hospital’s hallways may never come across them.
Keeping the building warm enough in winter and cool enough in summer is the work that tends to go unnoticed until something goes wrong. When it does, rapid repair by the in-house team is crucial. Everyone relies on secure construction and appreciates a bright environment too, but they don’t always recognize what it takes to create that atmosphere. 1199 Magazine visited NewYork Presbyterian Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn and met some of the members taking care of the physical plant.
1. Most of the work Sonny Nicholas does as a hospital Carpenter involves interior installation. Sometimes, he repairs holes in walls or replaces ceiling tiles. He worked through the height of the COVID-19 emergency. “The pandemic was horrible,” the 11-year hospital veteran says. “No one else wanted to go into the Covid rooms. People were scared. I was here when they brought in the trailer—I was the one who built the shelves for the bodies.”
The hospital lost 60 people during one three-day period.
“We lost one of the painters in our team to Covid,” Nicholas adds. “I had the virus twice in the early days. But now I’ve had the shots and three rounds of the booster.”
2. Philip Gunraj is in charge of Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) at the hospital. “People get very frustrated very quickly when the air conditioning goes off in the summer,” the 14-year hospital veteran says. “I get to put a smile back on people’s faces all the time.”
Unfortunately, Gunraj just doesn’t have enough people on the team. They’re always operating short-staffed. “There are only six of us in the department covering a hospital with roughly 250 beds,” he says. “Around 75 percent of all the calls to Facilities staff come to the HVAC team.
I never stop getting calls. I could work seven-days-a-week if I wanted to.”
The new director put Gunraj in charge of the Operating Rooms, so he comes in at 6 a.m. every day to make sure everything is working properly before the patients arrive. “Sometimes I’m here more than 36 hours in a row. I can do carpentry, too. I never refuse to do anything,” he says.
3. A large part of Eduard Zarubin’s job is to make sure all the switches and lighting in the operating rooms are working properly. “If there is an operation going on and something goes wrong, I will suit up and go into a live operation to fix it. If they need something done, we have to be there,” he says.
The Facilities team came in every day throughout the pandemic. “We were essential workers just as much as the doctors and nurses,” Zarubin says. “When people were out banging pots and clapping, we knew it was for us, too.”
At one point, the emergency room was turned into an admitting room. “We had no PPE and we had to refit and install all the electrical equipment while the patients were there,” Zarubin remembers.
“But I didn’t catch the virus until about 18 months later.”
The team spirit Zarubin enjoyed with his co-workers helped keep everyone motivated whenever times got especially tough. “We are not just working here for the money,” he says.
4. Lead Painter Kevin Mulcahy has his work cut out for him keeping the hospital looking fresh and clean. “There are always holes to be filled on the walls; the paint needs to be constantly refreshed or it will look dirty in no time,” he says.
With 14 years under his belt, Mulcahy is one of the longest-serving members on the Facilities team. He lives in Westchester, but believes the 90-minute daily commute is worth it because of the 1199 benefits he can count on. “Union members stay here for a long time,” he says. “It is the management that keeps changing.”