Meet Our Heroes: Interview with Staff Ambassador, Esteban Cardona

We’d like to share an interview with you this week to introduce you to another one of the #healthcareheroes who make Acuity a special place for healthcare and healing. Esteban Cardona is one of the team members who works tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure that our clinical staff receives just as much care as they give their patients. He’s the one who helps the caregivers. Read on to see how Esteban grew with Acuity from part-time security guard to Incident Commander and Staff Ambassador, and how he helps supply everything from personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses to Chinese food delivery for the night shift. Here’s what Esteban had to say: 

How long have you worked for Acuity? What do you do now?

I’ve been working at Acuity since I was 19, and I’ll be 27 this year. I’ve been on the Acuity Specialty Hospital of Southern New Jersey campus for eight years, the first three of those I was a contract employee with a secondary employer. That company folded, but I was lucky that Acuity Healthcare hired me on directly. I started as a part-time security guard. A few months later, I got a full-time position, and in 2 years, I became the Security Supervisor. From there I became the IT plant manager.  And no, not as in plants and flowers, a lot of people ask me that! They ask me, “You manage plants, even in the winter?”

Instead, I manage overall care of the facility itself, anything safety-related. I wear five or six different hats.  I’ve grown up as a young adult; have been through college with a full-time job and full-time school.  I’ve done it all at Acuity!  I’m very pleased with what I’ve accomplished and that I’ve had this opportunity with Acuity.  Finding a company that was so supportive of what I’ve wanted to do long term was important for me.  I didn’t yet know where I was ultimately going to end up so I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I got.

It must be hard to manage COVID safety in the hospital. What is your role?

I’m actually the incident commander for the incident command center, the ICS. I oversee our COVID response. The clinical group reports their issues to me. I brainstorm solutions for COVID issues like equipment, testing, setting up temporary rooms, and am responsible for obtaining PPE for our staff. 

How do you help the family members who can’t visit, and put their minds at ease?

Personally, it breaks my heart. There are patients here who are extremely sick, or close to the end of their life cycle, they just want to be surrounded by their loved ones.  They don’t have that family support with hospital visitation temporarily suspended due to COVID. 

I believe this is a really important piece of patient care. Having contact and support is important for mental health when you’re sitting in a hospital bed for a month or a month and a half. It hurts my heart that they can’t see their loved ones.

Professionally, these are the realities of COVID19. I continue to work directly with the CEO and director of clinical liaisons to offer different options for the families. We have implemented a direct point of contact so that one family member is assigned as point of contact for the patient. They can then get all the daily reporting for their loved one, and they can more easily share that information with the rest of the family.

We’ve implemented a daily clinical call for the nurse on shift to call the point of contact and let them know how their loved one is doing. Constant communication is our number one concern. The family also gets their own direct point of contact, a Customer Service Representative within Acuity. They act as case management liaisons, so that if the family can’t get an answer to a question, then they have someone that they can contact who can follow up for them and get them an answer quickly.

We’ve also implemented virtual visitation on an iPad, as often as we can do it.  Now, there’s virtual visitation once a week but we’re working to increase that. We had to work hard at tightening that, and we’ve gotten a really positive response from family members.  It makes the patients happier. It’s one of the greatest things that families rely on right now.

Congratulations on your new role as a newly appointed ambassador within the employee-owned company! What does that entail? 

As an ambassador, I feel as though we advocate for our staff on a companywide level. We also coordinate events to lift morale of staff (employee-owners). I feel that leadership is always looking to do their best for the team. I was a staff member for four straight years, and working nights can be challenging to be inclusive. 

I want the best for my team members. I go to bed every night thinking about PPE. Before COVID, the team could get any PPE they could want. Now, during COVID, PPE is in demand. I want them to feel safe at work. I want them to know that their safety and health is a priority. 

I go to bed thinking about how we can increase inventory. How do I get Tyvek suits? How can I get them an N95 mask every day? What can I do? It’s really why I come to work every day. I need to give my staff the support they need to properly care for these patients. It’s our goal to provide the best care. 

What are some of the other ways you advocate for staff as an ambassador?

We are an employee-owned Hospital Company. As an ambassador, I see my role as an advocate for all staff in our facility in Willingboro, New Jersey. 

When I worked night shifts in the past, they would celebrate during the day shift by having food brought in, but there would not be any for night shift.  I know people enjoy Chick-Fil-A here.  Lisa Bien, VP Communications, asked us what types of food we would like, so for two days, we had Chick-Fil-A delivered, and we were guaranteed enough for both shifts.  Servings were individually packaged so people felt safe grabbing food rather than having it all packaged together.

It’s so obvious how much you care when you talk about your staff. What would you most like them to know? 

I would like staff to know how personally I feel. I’d like to take all the different hats off and just be myself. I’d say listen, you’re my number one goal right now. Patient care is of the utmost importance to me, but I’m not clinical. I help by getting the staff exactly what they need. I personally feel that way–they are the end all be all people. They deserve everything. They deserve to be seen as heroes because they are heroes. 

They can always come and speak to me about whatever issues they have. I may not have the answer immediately, but I will do everything in my power to reach out to who I need to solve their issues. I just want them to personally know that I’m doing everything I can for them, not because it’s my job, but because I personally believe that they deserve this.

We couldn’t agree with you more, Esteban. Thank you for your time!

It was both fascinating and heartwarming to hear about what keeps Esteban up at night, and how hard he fights to make sure everyone in his facility has what they need to save lives every day. Thank you for all you do, Esteban, and thank you to all of our Acuity healthcare heroes!