The pandemic has pushed hygiene into the fore of people’s consciousness and changed the way we think about the simplest day-to-day activities.
It has also shone a spotlight on some “hidden heroes” who ordinarily would not stand out at all—the janitors and housekeepers who ensure health care centers are clean and safe enough for medical staff, who face the comings and goings of patients seeking testing or treatment.
David Abrams, housekeeping director for Coliseum Northside Hospital in Macon in Georgia, said his staff clean every room and every workstation in the building twice a day, including the floors.
“That creates that comfort level,” Abrams told KHOU 11. “What we do is done with the utmost integrity and done with a passion, because we know lives are at stake.”
But it hasn’t been easy since the number of cases has increased. “It really, really has changed,” housekeeper Katrina Burrell said. “I’m trying to wipe down everything and sanitize everything, sanitize every day, high and low for the nurses, the doctors, and for the patients.”
Recognition makes a world of difference to staff morale in difficult times.
“We get letters from patients who not only recognize doctors for their excellent work, not only recognize our nursing staff for their help, they recognize the housekeeping team,” Abrams said. “[They] mention my housekeepers by name.”
Elsewhere, Willie Nash, executive director of Environmental Services at UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, worked 28 days straight after the virus sprang up in his state. He habitually rose at 3 a.m. and worked 12- to 14-hour shifts, reported UCHealth.
And for Nash, it’s personal.
“My drive is this,” Nash said. “My wife, my two kids, they know this is the fire that burns in me. My agenda in my life is not to put anyone else in a bed that I wouldn’t put my father in.”
Nash’s father had lung cancer but died in the hospital after contracting a preventable secondary infection. Nash channeled his grief into a mission to protect others from a similar outcome.
Alongside his colleague Margaret Waggett, 70, a housekeeper with nearly 15 years’ experience at Memorial, Nash didn’t hesitate to clean the room used by the first patient who had the virus.
It’s not complex, Nash said, but it is hard work.
“We clean all the airborne things every single day and we do it diligently,” he said. “We just explained to our employees that this is no different than any other airborne, and this is no different procedure than any other day. … The only difference is we don’t know what this is.”
Waggett noted the heightened risk during the pandemic, adding that she and her team don full PPE and are doing “everything we can to be safe.”
“I feel right now that I am healthy enough and I have taken care of myself pretty good,” she said. “There is no reason that I can’t be in here to do something.”
Despite her pivotal role in maintaining hygiene on the front lines, Waggett humbly deflected the credit back to the nurses and doctors in hard-hit areas. “I praise them, I pray for them every day, and I just want everything to get better for everybody,” she said.
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