The day-to-day operations of Best of the Westside winner UCLA Health Santa Monica keep the Westside fortified in the face of COVID-19

By Christina Campodonico

(Left to Right) Calvin Harris, ACCP; Shannon Apsay, RN; Yvonne Shih, RN; Myra Trivellas, MD; Aida Tapia, RN; Jack W. Morrow, PA

As an ICU doctor at UCLA Health Santa Monica, Dr. Patricia Eshaghian’s typical day is anything but typical.

One minute she could be responding to a cardiac arrest as part of the hospital’s Code Blue Team. At another, she could be rushing to the ER to bring up a patient to the intensive care unit. At another, she could be intubating a gasping patient to give them life-saving oxygen through a ventilator.

“There’s always a little bit of a sense of nervousness when you’re intubating someone with respiratory failure, because, you know… you’re trying to save their life,” says Eshaghian, “you always have a little bit of a sense of — whatever you want to call it — adrenaline.”

Add COVID-19 into the mix, and life in the health care profession can become even more unpredictable. One constant is the rigorous rituals of care and cleanliness hospital staff undertake going into and out of treating patients every day: properly robing and disrobing personal protective equipment, washing hands raw (Eshaghian estimates she washes her hands at least 50 to 60 times per ICU shift), changing clothes between the hospital and home, showering upon return. There are happy days and there are hard days.

“I would say one of the things that has been the most challenging and really, truly heartbreaking about coronavirus is the fact that we had to stop visitors from coming to the hospital, especially early on in the pandemic,” says Eshaghian. “And so, you know, a person may be very siphoned off from support, and their family can’t be with them in person. And I think for us, as physicians and caregivers in the intensive care unit, we’re actually quite used to the family being thoroughly involved with the patient’s care and being able to update them at the bedside. And having to do that all over Zoom or over telephone has been particularly difficult. And it’s really hard to see one [who’s] sick be isolated in the room by themselves as it is and then, you know, not have their family there with them. … Seeing people pass away without their family being there with them… is really quite tragic.

“And some of our best days… is seeing someone who was very, very sick with the coronavirus get better and get off the ventilator,” continues Eshaghian, “and someone who I was worried was not going to make it a week or two earlier, make a wonderful turnaround and survive. And those are always the best days in the ICU.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought global economies to a screeching halt, suspended business operations for months on end and postponed many plans indefinitely. But one thing it hasn’t stopped is the business of babies being born.

“We’re pretty much business as usual. The only difference is, you know, everybody’s wearing a mask,” says Heather Rubino, a labor and delivery nurse at UCLA Health Santa Monica. “Babies still have to be born. They haven’t really stopped very much during this whole thing.”

As they say, life goes on, but not without some adjustments, observes Rubino, who’s had to figure out how to connect with her patients from behind a mask.

“Sometimes hiding half of my face is hard,” she says. “Labor is such an emotional experience. And you really connect with these moms and dads, couples, throughout the whole experience. It’s such a momentous occasion in their lives, and you’re a part of it. So it’s hard. Sometimes I try to show so much emotion in my eyes, and do a lot of body language to try to show how I’m feeling and supporting them. … So we’re still going off of a lot of words and just, you know, gentle touch and just little things to show them that you’re caring for them.”

On the flip side, the restrictions of COVID-19 have created a more intimate birthing experience for child-bearers (patients are tested for COVID-19 before entering the hospital) and their partners because no other family members are allowed in the birthing room at this time, which Rubino sees as a “silver lining” for some couples.

“It is a little bit more of an intimate experience now because there are less people from their lives that are involved in the actual labor and delivery process,” observes Rubino, adding that hospital staff are able to give more one-on-one and personal attention since there are fewer people in the room.

“We know outside these hospital walls, things are very unpredictable,” says Rubino, “So we try to make this as easy as it can be. … We still want to have those moments where mom gets to have baby on her chest. We’re not separating moms and babies. … We’re just doing more hygiene and cleaning, and just overall making sure that everybody’s safe. … We’re still having a baby, and we’re still trying to preserve that moment. It’s a happy experience, regardless of what’s going on outside.”

Over her years at UCLA Health, Environmental Services custodian Emiline Red likes to say that she’s cleaned the hospital from “top to bottom,” and that’s because she probably has.

Before being permanently assigned to keeping the Emergency Department at UCLA Health Santa Monica spic and span two years ago, she joined UCLA Health housekeeping as a “float,” mopping, polishing, disinfecting and cleaning rooms throughout the hospital.

“Because I’ve worked on every floor, I like to say that I’ve cleaned the hospital from top to bottom,” says Red. “But I consider the ER my home and the people there my family. After every shift, I’m proud to have made the environment cleaner, brighter and more welcoming for our patients.”

As an EVS staff member, Red is responsible for many types of cleaning tasks and well-trained in hospital disinfection policy and procedures as well as precautionary infection-control measures, including how to safely dispose of biohazardous materials, like protective gear and patient linens.

“We have had excellent training, education and continued support from our managers and hospital administration, so I’m confident not only of my safety when I put on my protective gear and start my shift, I’m also confident of the safety of those around me,” says Red.

While the pandemic has been challenging, Red takes pride in her work and professional community.

“When I look around the ER, I see a clean, safe environment with doctors, nurses, health care workers and custodians determined to do everything possible to keep patients safe and well. My purpose and commitment to our patients – and the community – has never felt stronger,” Red says.

Congratulations to Best Hospital and Best Medical Group winner, UCLA Health Santa Monica! To learn more, visit