New crew at Hilo Medical Center helping keep high-use areas clean amid COVID-19 pandemic

  • HILO MEDICAL CENTER Cleaning crew members George Cortez and Stacie Hauanio.

  • HILO MEDICAL CENTER Grant Villanueva cleans in Hilo Medical Center’s main entrance.

  • HILO MEDICAL CENTER Shirts worn by Hilo Medical Center’s COVID-19 cleaning crew, hired to clean high-use and high-touch areas and surfaces, makes them easy to spot in the hospital.

Keep calm and clean on.

A new crew of cleaners was hired specifically to keep high-touch surfaces and areas of Hilo Medical Center clean as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.


“When the whole pandemic started, we knew that one of the main things we needed to focus on was infection prevention, so we decided to hire on additional environmental services workers,” said Lisa Shiroma, assistant hospital administrator.

Shiroma said crew members work seven days a week frequently cleaning “high-touch areas” such as the hospital’s waiting rooms, lobby, elevators and door knobs.

While there were crews doing that in the past, the new crew was hired specifically to clean those spots.

“Just to ensure the safety of our employees, our community (and) our visitors, we’re constantly trying to clean our surfaces to prevent the spread (of COVID-19), and we think this is going to be the new norm,” Shiroma said.

According to Shiroma, among the crew are previous employees who decided they wanted to return to help during the pandemic, childcare providers and people from the hotel and restaurant industries.

Hospital spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said the crew has a great sense of purpose and responsibility to protect the community, patients and each other.

Crew member George Cortez said the team is comprised of seven people from all different backgrounds.

“Everyone meshed in and did their part, learned what they had to learn … (We’re) all working as one team instead of individuals,” he said.

Prior to joining the crew March 31, Cortez was an assistant manager at Zippy’s in Hilo. He was hired on as a crew member a week before the restaurant closed.

“I wanted to do my part to ease the family members who couldn’t come and visit some of the patients,” he said. “… I just wanted to make them feel at ease, that they were taken care of and not forgotten.”

Cortez said he had prior cleaning experience and had a cleaning business on Maui for seven years.

“I think we play a very important role … Anyone can ask and we can drop in and do what we need to do to help any department out,” Cortez said.

He has no concerns about safety in his new job and plans to keep working at HMC.

“I think (the hospital is) the cleanest place to be on the island right now.”

He thanked the hospital for welcoming the team with open arms.

Cabatu said people could have been too scared to apply when the call for emergency hires was made.


“That was the opposite of what we saw,” she said. “We saw that people wanted to step up and help … ”

Email Stephanie Salmons at

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