Monday, August 15, 2016

Cleaning Staff Communication With Dying Patients (Research)

Staff members at some organizations think coworkers on the cleaning staff have no real connection with operational success. It’s little wonder that a cleaning staff person may say in describing his or her job, “Oh, I’m just a custodian,” as if a custodian's contribution is not important in the fulfillment of an organization's mission statement.

A former public school principal, I always emphasized the significance of every employee’s role in the success of our school. Instead of celebrating Secretary’s Day, Teacher Appreciation Week, or Boss's Day, our entire school celebrated Staff Appreciation Week honoring all staff members, including custodians, cafeteria workers, volunteers, and even the street-crossing guard and regular mailperson. We were all valued links in a strong chain in which everybody’s input mattered. This motivated and empowered all of us in achieving our common goal of successfully educating students. This respect for everyone’s line of work became embedded in our school culture.

Healthcare organizations can also benefit from such a culture. This research focuses on hospital cleaning staff communication with seriously ill and dying patients. While communication between these two groups is seldom recognized, many opportunities are presented in hospitals and other healthcare organizations where cleaning staff members interact with patients and cope with their dying and deaths. This research included cleaning staff participants in interviews and a focus group discussion. In addition, managerial cleaning staff participated in a separate focus group. The results are beneficial for care of dying patients.

Some readers may be surprised to know that cleaning staff members described their relationships with patients as meaningful and fulfilling aspects of their work. About half of participants indicated that patients talked with them briefly every day. While conversations were usually casual and about everyday topics, patients also discussed their illnesses and even their future deaths with cleaning staff.

Unfortunately, when patients addressed illness and death, cleaning staff often felt uncomfortable and helpless because they did not know how to respond to patients. Cleaning staff communication with patients could improve if they had some basic training in how to sensitively support patients regarding illness. This kind of information would be helpful to anyone and would certainly enhance hospital and other healthcare cultures in achieving patient-centered care supported by all employees.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.


  1. It takes very little money or effort to train these often eager staff members. They have been an integral part of a resident's daily life and deserve to be included and equipped to continue that support.

    1. You are so right. That inclusiveness is important for all staff members in establishing a workplace culture where the input of everyone is respected.

  2. At Hosiped, we value all our caregivers because we know how hard they work for the success of our organization.