Wilma Hartig, a gregarious 60-year-old with a child-like zest for life, has turned her housekeeping job at Pullman Regional Hospital into an exercise in hospitality.
First and foremost, said Wilma, she and her co-workers in the hospital's Environmental Service department labor to keep the hospital clean, free of germs and as tidy as possible.
“I like cleaning,” Wilma explained. “When I clean a room it's as if one of my family members or I would be staying in it. We work hard.”
And while all the patient rooms have numbers outside the door, Wilma said they also have people inside; many of whom are quite ill, some even fighting for life.
“So I don't go by the numbers,” Wilma said. “I go by names.”
With that in mind, she might enter a room to retrieve a waste basket, but by the time she leaves she's usually talked with the occupant and sometimes already struck up a friendship.
“I've always been a giver,” Wilma said. “I just like to help people. And I love meeting new people.”
Wilma was raised and lived for 50 years in Weippe, a small logging community in Idaho's remote Clearwater County. She graduated from nearby Timberline High School and married logger Gary Hartig 42 years ago. Gary still works in the woods as a loader operator. The Hartigs have two children and six grandchildren.
“I love them to pieces,” Wilma said. “They're my joy.”
Her job, Wilma said, also gives her a sense of joy and accomplishment.
“I'm in environmental service; we're housekeepers,” Wilma said. “We clean up. We have to be safe and make sure everything here is safe.”
Wilma came to Pullman Regional about three years ago.
“I worked in housekeeping at Tri-State Hospital (in Clarkston) for eight years, and then I moved up here,” said Wilma, who continues to live with her husband in Lewiston.
She said her son, Randy, who's a surgical nurse at Pullman Regional, told her about a job opening.
“So I applied, and I got it,” Wilma said. “It will be three years in August, and I am so glad.”
While extending a welcoming hand, warm smile and caring heart to patients isn't in her job description, Wilma said Pullman Regional has not only allowed, but encouraged her to be herself. So she does what she does best.
“It's funny how you go into a room and somebody doesn't talk. I might be getting the garbage, but I just start talking,” Wilma said. “And I might end up being in there 10 or 15 minutes. You just get to know them.”
Wilma said she's always been gregarious. She recalled cleaning one night at the hospital in Clarkston when a woman was near death and writhing in pain. Nurses called on Wilma to pay a visit.
“She grabbed my hand and I said, it's okay. Just settle down, and I was rubbing her hand and forehead saying, I'm here with you. You're not alone,” Wilma recalled. “And she looked at me and closed her eyes and peacefully passed away, right there.”
Wilma recently cleaned a room where a four-year-old girl was battling a severe bout of flu. Children are easy to befriend, Wilma said, especially when they're ill. So, she routinely brings children—like she did the four-year-old—a teddy bear. Such gifts, Wilma said, always bring smiles and just maybe help speed along recovery.
Wilma is also known as the “Warm blanket angel,” always willing to bring a patient a warm, comforting blanket. “I always ask them if they're cold, if they need another blanket.”
She recalled another patient, a woman, who was kept in a sedated state for several days while being treated for a severe infection. When she woke feeling better, Wilma said everyone, doctors, nurses and staff alike, celebrated the turn of events. And Wilma went a bit beyond.
“I felt sorry because she didn't have anything like a hairbrush or her own perfume or anything,” Wilma recalled. “So I ran up to Walmart and I got her some shampoo and hair clips for her hair, and finger nail polish, other goodies.”
Wilma works what amounts to a swing shift, commuting from Lewiston in the afternoon and back home late at night. She said she's amazed at how many people she sees coming to Pullman Regional from throughout the area.
“I see a lot of people from all around. They can be from Grangeville, Kooskia, Kamiah, Lewiston. We've got a good reputation here. Good doctors and the nurses are just wonderful.”
On occasion, Wilma said, a patient has an extended stay in the hospital and she gets to know them quite well. Such was the case with a 70-year-old man who had complications after shoulder surgery.
“He was here for six weeks, and really got to know him,” Wilma said. “He didn't have company—hardly anybody came to see him.” The man stayed in the hospital through the holiday season, and Wilma would stop to watch a bit of a football or basketball game with him and joke around.
“For Christmas I went and bought him a Cougar shirt,” Wilma said. “And for a Christmas decoration, I got him a Santa Claus that lit up.”
Then Wilma decided a practical joke might help cheer her new friend up, so she got word to him that an enema was imminent.
He was momentarily flummoxed, and the ruse lasted only a few minutes before the two were laughing. “Of course those orders wouldn’t come from me, but the look on his face was priceless.”
“We have our job to do,” Wilma said. “But our patients are our first priority. And if they're happy, we're happy.”
Sometimes, Wilma said, she wonders if she should have pursued work where she's trained to interact with people and help them. But then she realized that she's already doing the job.
“I think there's a place for everybody to be in this world and I think I was put here to be a housekeeper and to help people,” Wilma said. “I've met so many neat people, and I work with such great people too.”