Over the past decade, the health care environmental services (ES) department's duties have expanded far beyond its previous housekeeping role to become a front-line player in maintaining hospital safety, service and efficiency.

One key example has been the growth of the ES department's responsibilities working with infection preventionists to reduce health care-associated infections. Likewise, ES professionals have grown more important in promoting patient satisfaction as hospitals have become more service oriented. Other examples include the ES department's growing role in ensuring a smooth patient flow and its position in leading hospital sustainability efforts.

And this doesn't even include internal objectives such as enhanced staff training or demonstrating value to the organization.

That is why Health Facilities Management and the Association for the Healthcare Environment are proud to once again bring you our annual ES Department of the Year awards program, sponsored by Cintas. Not only do these awards document the expanding role and value of top-performing ES teams, those recognized in the program also provide a benchmark of the leading practitioners in the field.

This year's top award winner – Advocate Christ Medical Center and Hope Children's Hospital, Oak Lawn, Ill. – and finalist – The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia – both provide outstanding examples of ES departments taking on these new challenges and thriving. They are joined by seven Certificate of Merit recipients who also are making an important difference in their facilities and in the health care industry overall.

Please turn to page 19 to learn more about how the nation's top ES departments are handling their new challenges and improving on their traditional ones.