Photo courtesy of UNC Health Care
The UNC Hospitals Environmental Services Gospel Choir at a recent performance.

Beautiful music is in the air at University of North Carolina Hospitals, and everyone is taking note of the stirring sounds produced by the UNC Hospitals Environmental Services Gospel Choir. Led by housekeeping staffer and choir director Shawn Davis, the choir, formed in 2014, has changed the perception of what the housekeeping team is capable of doing, Davis says.

"Environmental services, we’re usually thought of as the cleanup crew, but we have a lot more to offer,” he says. “The choir helps show that their hearts are connected to the patients and that we provide patient-centered services, whether we’re singing or keeping healing places clean.”

The choir was created when department staff met to discuss how to raise their presence at the hospital’s annual multicultural fair. Latino members of environmental services already had performed a conga dance, but there was more diversity to show among the staff, says Orlando Reyes, UNC Hospitals’ associate director for environmental services.

“The idea for a gospel choir was given and Shawn stepped up to volunteer to lead the choir,” he says. “About 25 employees met three times a week to rehearse, and the department bought $800 [worth] of Carolina Blue choir robes. We thought it was worth the investment, and it has been even better than we imagined.”

The choir has closed out the hospital’s fair to wild applause for two years. “Without exaggeration, there was jumping and shouting and dancing and testifying in the hospital lobby,” Davis says. “And now we’re called on often to go to hospital rooms, to do holiday Christmas carols. We sang the Star Spangled Banner at a University of North Carolina women’s basketball game, and more,” he says.

Davis says the choir has raised morale for the entire staff. It comprises employees from both the first and second shifts — those who don’t get a chance to know each other or ever really talk at work. Reyes agrees that the choir is helping to remind other staff and patients that environmental services employees also are part of the patient care mission.

“When we come into a patient’s room, the goal is not simply cleaning, the goal is also to engage with the patients, let them know we’re here for them,” says Reyes. “All this singing’s been a great opportunity for our staff to do just that.”