discoveries magazine

Cleaning With Courage

Cedars-Sinai's Environmental Services staff work with extreme caution

1800s handheld medical steam machine

Photo: Lisa Hollis

In the late 1800s, this handheld steam machine dispensed a thick yellow fog of carbolic acid into the operating chamber during procedures. The technique, invented by British surgeon Joseph Lister, was meant to kill pathogens and prevent patients from developing an infection during surgery. 

Lister's efforts saved lives, but today's sterilization methods transcend the use of noxious carbolic acid, which irritated eyes, lungs and skin. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cedars-Sinai's Environmental Services department expertly guards against the spread of disease with modern disinfectants, paired with extra caution. 

Cedars-Sinai routinely cares for patients fighting infectious diseases, says Maricela Clemens, associate director of Environmental Services. All areas are regularly cleaned with an ammonium-chloride-based disinfectant designed specifically to kill viruses, bacteria and fungi. A specialized discharge team is trained to wear extra personal protective equipment in COVID-19 areas while they disinfect rooms after patients move or go home. 

"Our priority has always been to disinfect and clean rooms to prevent hospital-acquired infection," Clemens says. "Sometimes we forget how important this workforce is. We might not be the caregivers dealing with actual medicine, but we are taking care of patients in another way."

The team uses extreme care, taking 70 minutes to clean each room and eliminate any trace of the virus to protect patients, nurses, doctors and their fellow staff.

"When we know that a patient got released early, we feel good that we made a difference in their lives," Clemens says.

This fogger is one of many artifacts maintained by the Cedars-Sinai Historical Conservancy.