Editor’s Note: This article is the fourth of a five-part series (see previous articles on BSCs, manufacturers, and distributors) investigating what the cleaning industry is doing in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Facilities that house large and varied populations, including those that cater to hospitality and health care, are especially in need of protection from the coronavirus. The health of individuals in these facilities—many with underlying health conditions who are at high-risk of infections—depends on the professionals who clean and disinfect hotels, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.
“As we all know, environmental services (EVS) is essential,” according to Michael Patterson, the executive director of the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA), a division of ISSA.
Many hotels are remaining open, Patterson said. Medical facilities are fully staffed and 100% operational as they deal with an increased demand on their services.
Schools also are on the critical list. “While schools and universities are closed at this time, there are skeleton crews still in operation and the cleaning staff must be ready to go back to work after this crisis,” Patterson said.
Setting an example
Workers on the front-line share concerns that are common during this pandemic.
“Housekeepers have the same fear as most but take great pride in keeping our residents safe from the coronavirus,” according to Patti Gallagher, CESE, the director of housekeeping at Jefferson’s Ferry, a Long Island, New York life care retirement community. “Two of my long-time employees communicated that they were not comfortable coming to work, knowing that one of our employees had tested positive. After only one day at home, they were back feeling sure that they had made the right decision.”
Gallagher’s housekeeping staff is busy but working safely.
“Without all the housekeeping staff doing the nonstop disinfection of everything, this virus would wreak havoc on our beloved residents and staff. My staff are working on their days off despite pleas from their families not to come in, to meet the demand of the infection control protocols that have been put in place. They come in early and stay late to take on tasks like labeling and laundering of all the clothes for the residents whose families used to do their laundry but are no longer permitted inside.”
And as most facilities have adopted, those at Jefferson’s Ferry do their work with adherence to social distancing, keeping a positive attitude while doing so, sometimes with humor. “They take their breaks together and the area is full of laughter. They are brothers and sisters with a noble cause,” she said.
Those outside the industry are taking note of the value that EVS workers bring to the community. “I was inspired by a news report that I heard on my way to work this morning,” Gallagher related. “A pediatric nurse practitioner at a New York area hospital had started collecting metro cards to help the typically underpaid EVS workers on the front line get to work.” The nurse practitioner told Gallagher that this situation of dealing with the pandemic would not work without the EVS front-line workers.
“It was encouraging to know that someone gets it. I thank my staff every day. I respect and value them. I pray that everyone can do the same.”
Now, more than ever, knowledge combined with understanding is the medicine for our fears and anxiety, believes Julio Rodriguez, the regional director of operations for Crothall Healthcare at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.
“This is key for our environmental services associates,” he said. “When they understand that they are the best at what they do, and that they have the correct tools to perform their cleaning tasks, they ‘shine’ and make the hospital safer for all.”
Although EVS workers are as concerned as everyone else about this novel coronavirus, they have the advantage of being in possession of more information regarding this pandemic. “When we remove the fear of what we don’t understand, we are all capable of great accomplishments in our field of environmental services,” Rodriguez said.
Shortages and panicking
EVS has its challenges, many of which are not in the control of facility managers and supervisors.
“At our facilities, we have issues, Patterson said. “Personal protective equipment is in a shortage globally; we don’t have enough. Some EVS employees have to wear the same mask for the entire week.”
He said that some hospitals are closing their doors to patients’ families due to them stealing hand sanitizer dispensers and cartridges, since they have been unable to find hand sanitizer in retail stores. EVS personnel work diligently to ensure that critical disinfectant products are available, but when those products end up missing, they have to scramble to keep up.
“It’s mass chaos out there,” Patterson added. “People are panicking, and it affects our facilities.” But like the rest of us, he keeps a positive attitude: “Once this is all over, things will quickly rebound and being the professionals that we are, we will all unite and make it happen.”
For more information on the coronavirus and the cleaning industry, visit issa.com/coronavirus.
Share your thoughts
ISSA wants to hear your voice. Please contact us with questions and concerns and tell us how we can help you in this crisis. Share your own observations and what you are doing to handle this COVID-19 outbreak. What are you doing? How will you cope? How will you move forward when the crisis is over? Share your thoughts.