- Associated Press - Sunday, August 9, 2020

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Cindi Layher keeps the rooms clean at CHI Health St. Francis. But she cares more about the person in each room.

“I just think that as a housekeeper, the most important part of your job should be caring for the patients and their welfare,” Layher says.

Layher has worked for most of the past 20 years at CHI St. Francis as an environmental services associate, which is just a fancy way of saying housekeeper.

For the last year and a half, The Grand Island Independent reports her work has focused on the intensive care unit, which is on the hospital’s third floor.

Layher loves her job. Why?

“I like the people. I like the patients. They’re awesome.”

If patients are uncomfortable, she tells them, “It’s going to be all right.”

Because of her compassionate manner, Layher was presented last month with the CHI Health St. Francis 2020 Caring Kind Award.

During the height of the COVID-19 crisis, Layher wasn’t able to speak to many of the patients in ICU because they were on ventilators.

But they still needed reassuring.

“They were alone, so you had to be their family. You had to be the one that told them, ‘It’s going to get better.’ ‘It’s OK,’ if they were uncomfortable. I felt very sorry for them,” Layher said.

Layher was nominated for the Caring Kind Award by ICU nursing supervisor Sheena DeBoer, environmental services supervisor Kristi Katzberg and Eilleen Peard, also from environmental services.

“Cindi is a perfect example of what we all should aspire to be and what we all want to be,” they wrote jointly. “During the pandemic, she was the first to volunteer to work on the ICU floor and was willing to work as many days as needed. She would talk to her patients even if they were unconscious. She would tell us she did this because she knew they could hear her and they needed to hear the voice of someone that loved them.”

Layher, they wrote, “never judges anyone and always has a kind heart.”

Patients appreciate it when you ask, “How are you doing?” and “Are you feeling better?”

“And if they’re there for a long amount of time, you kind of get to know them,” Layher said.

She tries to comfort them and make them feel at ease.

People with the coronavirus are sometimes on ventilators for up to six weeks. When they come to, “a lot of them want to know what’s happened while they were sleeping,” she said.

They ask what the weather is like, and what’s been going on.

When people are on a ventilator, doctors don’t want them moving around and possibly pulling out tubes.

Layher also comforts family members. She asks whether it’s OK if she hugs them. When they say yes, she does.

Layher cleans the patient rooms in ICU every day. She wipes everything down, removes the garbage, cleans the bathroom and mops the floor. When a patient moves to another floor or is discharged, housekeepers remove the linen, wipe everything down, make the bed and get things ready for the next patient.

Hauling the dirty linen can be tough sometimes for Layher, who stands not quite 5 feet, 2 inches.

Whenever she visits a room, she visits with the patients, except if the patient is unconscious or asleep.

Layher doesn’t want to be a nurse. “No. They have too much responsibility. They have to know too many things. And being a housekeeper, sometimes you get to spend more time with the patient.”

During normal times, patients in ICU have suffered heart attacks, strokes and other major setbacks.

After COVID, it was “really strange at first” to have patients “that you could actually talk to,” she said.

Layher, 67, was born Cindi Duester in Loup City. She graduated from St. Paul High School in 1971.

She and her husband of 49 years, Ronald, live in Elba. After their four kids were grown, “I decided it was time to work outside the home,” she said. “I saw an ad in the paper and put my application in. They called, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

She started at CHI St. Francis in 2000. She left twice for a total of five years, but returned.

Their children are Christopher, 48; Julie Layher, 47; Heather Schulte, 41, and Angie Parker, 35. The latter three live in Grand Island.

The Layhers have seven grandchildren, who comment that they are now taller than the grandmother.

CHI St. Francis President Ed Hannon speaks highly of Layher. “She’s a superstar.”

Layher plans to keep working as long as she can.

“I do love my job. And I love the staff on third floor. They’re just like family. If you were to come up there, you would think we’re probably just the strangest bunch of people you’ve ever known,” she said. “We laugh and torment one another, and that’s what makes it good.”

According to the nomination statement her colleagues wrote, Layher “keeps Hallmark in business because she always finds the best cards for the situation to let her coworkers know she is there for them. She has been there for all of us, to shed a tear with or just listen when we need an ear.”

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