Last month, I discussed the critical but often-overlooked role operations departments play in hospitals and health care facilities. If any group personifies this dichotomy between seriousness of purpose and lack of recognition, it's the nation's environmental services (ES) teams.

Whether helping to lead the fight against health care-associated infections, spearheading organizationwide sustainability initiatives or serving as the "face" of the health care team to anxious patients and family, ES professionals are the true unsung heroes of health care.

That's why Health Facilities Management teamed up with the American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services (ASHES) four years ago to bring you the ES Department of the Year awards, which again are sponsored by Cintas Corp.

In aggregate, this year's entries have been the best since the competition began, with many demonstrating a systematic, results-driven approach to achieving their goals. These top-performing teams also developed close relationships with their facility's infection prevention leaders, even walking rounds with them to observe and discuss what can be done to improve infection control efforts.

In addition to the winner and runner-up – Doylestown (Pa.) Hospital and University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics in Madison, respectively – this year's competition also awarded certificates of merit to Baptist Easley (S.C.) Hospital; Evans Army Community Hospital, Ft. Carson, Colo.; and FHN, Freeport, Ill.

So, turn to page 25 and learn why these exemplary ES teams are so noteworthy. And make plans now to enter your ES team in next year's competition, so they also may earn the recognition they so richly deserve but rarely receive.