BAYONET POINT — His floors look clean enough, but Glen Baker never lets his guard down.
Walking down a hall one morning, he spies a small leaf: gone. He sees a scuff mark: gone. He sees a scrap of paper: gone, except that after he tosses it into the trash can, one small edge clings to the rim. Baker gently pushes it all the way in. Gone for good.
"If you're walking behind me," Baker warns, "you're liable to run into me."
Baker is director of environmental services at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, which means he is the hospital's top Mr. Clean. In the job for less than a year, his meticulous attention to detail is already winning admiration from other hospital employees.
"I don't think it's ever looked better than it does now," said Joyce Hagen-Flint, director of food and nutrition services.
"Doctors always say how clean it is," said physician liaison Lori Ferracane. "People notice."
Perhaps more important to the hospital's image, patients have noticed too. Bayonet Point ranked best overall in the Tampa Bay area in the first round of patient surveys released late last month by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Hospital cleanliness was one of the items to which patients gave good marks.
Baker, 47, says he thinks the hospital has developed a culture that sees cleaning up as everyone's job and that also acknowledges the 40 or so workers on the cleanup crew are often the ones patients talk to — or complain to.
That's why Baker asks his workers to say their names when they walk into a room. He even has them go through a visualization exercise in which they imagine staying at a hotel where a housekeeper keeps silently barging in.
"So they can feel what it's like when somebody invades their space," he said.
Cleanliness is much more than just wiping up juice spills. With the threat of MRSA — the potentially fatal antibiotic-resistant infection — the cleanup routine in patients' rooms must be even more meticulous. That means disinfecting everything, from beneath the bed to the doorknobs.
"It's made it more challenging because people are scared," he said. "But as they observe what we do, they feel better."
Going room to room
Baker works the halls like a good party host, greeting nurses, doctors and his own employees.
"Look at that face, that smile!" he said as a grinning coworker with a dustpan passed by him. And "there's Kim, the queen of getting dust out of the room," he said as he passed another room where housekeeper Kim Krauss was cleaning. She stopped and waved.
Part of his daily routine is going room to room, interviewing patients about their stay. He asks whether his crew members were friendly when they came in to collect linens or to clean up spills. But he also asks about the patients' food, for instance, or whether they had any problems with their treatment.
One patient he talked to had mostly negative things to say. After she left and returned home, he drove out to her house. With flowers.
"Glen takes on the patient's perspective," said Hagen-Flint. "He's concerned about anything the patient's concerned about, whether it's his department or not."
Cleaning hospital rooms and bathrooms can be a thankless job, and the workers are among hospitals' lowest-paid. Baker declined to say how much Bayonet Point workers make; some earn minimum wage, he said, but their pay will get bumped up by the end of this month.
Their hours depend on the number of patients on any given day, but Baker says he tries to work with employees to see how many hours they must have to pay their own bills. He also holds daily team meetings where they can talk about how to handle difficult incidents.
The subject of one recent meeting: How should one handle a patient who threw her food tray three times? (The answer: Get a nursing supervisor, clean up the food and try to stay positive and friendly, he said.)
One of his employees, Linda Schlatt, said his efforts to tailor their hours has been a big morale boost. As has his own willingness to help: She's seen him roll up his dress pants and help wax a floor.
"There's less stress. People smile more," she said. "And we get it done."
Baker can trace his work to his Brooklyn childhood. His mother, who suffered from lupus, was often sick and needed to be hospitalized. He can remember when she stayed in a hospital for months.
"I was experiencing a lot of this," he said. "I saw the good, the bad and the ugly."
Back at home, his mother kept the kind of house where you could eat off the floors. He and his siblings were expected to help keep it that way.
"My mom was a clean fanatic," he said with a laugh. "Every week she had me cleaning the walls."
After high school, Baker, a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, moved to Alabama to be a "pioneer," which meant he knocked on doors to evangelize and hand out literature.
He was looking for a job to help support himself and got on as a hospital janitor. He quickly worked his way up to evening shift supervisor. "I just enjoyed it," he said.
He later worked for private contract companies that clean hospitals. Those experiences also made him hyper-aware of any missed dust particles or floor scuff marks: A supervisor would often check in on him. He hated the last-minute panic to get things perfect, so he decided to build vigilance into his routine.
"It's better to keep straight rather than get straight," he said.
His last job before Bayonet Point was at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. He still lives in that city, with his wife and teenage son.
Baker's meandering walks down the hospital's hallways — his eyes always scanning for something that needs to be cleaned up — are well-known.
"I'll be walking behind Glen sometimes and think, 'What's he looking at?' " said Ferracane.
Can he turn that sensitivity off when he leaves? Not really. He said even when he's at the mall, he notices things out of place.
"I see it. I have to turn it off," he said. "And it can be hard sometimes. I'll say, 'No, I'm not at work.' "
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.