Hidden health care heroes: providing shelter and safety

By The Health News Team | April 13, 2022
George Contreras, facilities engineer with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers

George Contreras, facilities engineer with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers, helped build dozens of triage tents and served an essential role in the battle against COVID-19.

Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals have earned well-deserved praise for their front-line efforts during the pandemic. But there’s another key group of essential workers that often go unnoticed: facilities and maintenance team members.

Working behind the scenes, these hidden heroes of the Plant Operations team typically perform critical tasks that keep Sharp facilities operating efficiently and safely. From conducting routine inspections of equipment to handling basic repairs like lightbulb replacement, they are there to answer the call.

But at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharp’s maintenance teams shifted gears. Together, they mobilized to contribute in new and impactful ways to support health care staff and patients.

George Contreras, a facilities engineer with Sharp-Rees Stealy Medical Centers, was there from the start. “Every day was something new. With so many unknowns at that point, we just did everything we could to help,” he says.

Contreras and the facilities team worked tirelessly to construct dozens of tents outside Sharp Rees-Stealy urgent care centers and medical offices across San Diego to triage, treat and test an influx of patients with COVID-19 symptoms. The additional infrastructure helped limit exposure to other members of the community and care team by keeping patients with COVID-19 separate from other patients.

Sometimes working 12-hour days, they coordinated fencing installation and towed in emergency response trailers full of cots, medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

“It was about adaptability,” Contreras says. “We had to figure out how to make these tents functional, sturdy and safe. We located power sources and ran extension cords for lighting and medical equipment.”

The coronavirus, however, wasn’t the only challenge the team faced. Rain, wind and hot weather made working outdoors more difficult for everyone.

When temperatures soared into the triple digits, the team responded by installing air-conditioning units to keep health care staff cool.

“Doctors and nurses were working outside in 100-degree weather and fully suited in personal protective equipment,” says Contreras. “They were really struggling. Anything we could do to make this difficult time a little more comfortable for them, we were willing to do.”

Despite his pivotal role, Contreras humbly deflects the credit. “It was a team effort, and everyone had a role to play. We were all in it together,” he says.

Health care maintenance staff are among the unsung heroes of the pandemic and deserve special recognition for their role in the fight against COVID-19. They faced an unprecedented time with bravery, skill and resourcefulness, and put their lives on the line to help keep staff and patients safe.

This article is the first in a series highlighting the hidden health care heroes of Sharp, whose dedication, compassion and commitment to excellence exemplify The Sharp Experience.

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