By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Ozella Carouthers is in a class by herself.
The 64-year-old Nettleton woman who works in the environmental services department is the first person who can claim 45 years of employment at North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo.
“She’s just dedicated,” said Bill Mello, environmental services director. “She literally can work any position in our department.”
Carouthers was just shy of 20 when her sister, Willie Mae Dilworth, recommended her to the head of hospital housekeeping. When she started on Aug. 21, 1967, she didn’t expect to make a career at the hospital.
“After I started, I loved it,” said Carouthers, who hasn’t taken a sick day since she had her youngest child 26 years ago. “… Our department plays a big part in the hospital. If we don’t do our part” keeping the hospital clean “other people can’t do their part.”
Carouthers, who has worked as a supervisor and an office coordinator, is known for her sunny disposition, kind words to all she meets and exacting standards on cleaning.
“I’m a fanatic,” admitted Carouthers, who has a special affinity for stripping and waxing floors.
“When you strip and wax a floor, you can see it becoming clean,” she said.
When Carouthers started at NMMC, it was still just the hospital on the hill, the housekeeping crew was fewer than a dozen people and she made 40 cents an hour.
“We got $40 every other week,” said Carouthers, who saved her money in those early days and paid cash to help build her mother a house in 1972.
Now she is paid much better, and the environmental services department needs more than 100 sets of hands to clean all the buildings on the expansive NMMC campus.
Over the years, she’s seen technology change cleaning tools, just as it has changed medicine. These days, environmental services is a key part of infection control.
“Now we change mops for every patient room,” Carouthers said. “It’s so much better.”
During her time at NMMC, she married, raised three children with husband Earvin Carouthers Jr., who has passed away, and welcomed four grandchildren.
Her son, Earvin Carouthers III, now serves as an Environmental Services supervisor; her daughter, Ramona Gilliam, is a certified nursing assistant at NMMC and is preparing for nursing school. Her third daughter, Jennifer, just finished college and is a photographer in California.
Carouthers is weighing retirement next year when she turns 66, but she isn’t quite convinced.
“My children are encouraging me” to consider retiring, Carouthers said. “I might stay on a couple more years. When you’re my age, you feel better when you get up and have somewhere to be every day.”