For the 100-plus team of people keeping things clean and sanitized at Bluewater Health, the current pandemic is just another day at the office.
“We follow the same protocol whether there’s an outbreak or no outbreak,” said Kelly Wade, a member of the hospital’s environmental services team.
But if COVID-19 hasn’t changed the process, it has resulted in an additional 10 staff working daily in Sarnia and Petrolia, with shifts overlapping to provide more frequent cleaning, said supervisor Debby Milner.
In fact, members of the environmental services crew are as common in the halls of Sarnia’s COVID-19 unit as nurses and doctors these days.
“The handrails, the door handles — on the front lines everything is cleaned,” said cleaner Wanda Templeton. “It pretty much continues around the clock.”
Cleaning staff receives extensive training to learn about the many invisible microorganisms they’re responsible for eliminating, explained hospital spokesperson Julia Oosterman.
“We have a lot of experience in history and expertise in our house cleaning staff. It’s a matter of returning to the embedded experience that they already have and have been using for years.”
Though a number of specialized chemicals are used to sanitize, plain old bleach remains a favourite.
Wade and Templeton, who have both worked at Bluewater Health for 30 years, say COVID-19 is not the most difficult pathogen they’ve waged war on.
“Probably the worst” hospital cleaners encounter on a daily basis is C. Difficile, a highly contagious bacteria that can infect the bowel and result in hospitalization, Oosterman noted.
“It’s important to know that while (COVID-19) is a horrible contagion… it’s not as hard to clean away as (C. Difficile).”
Templeton said she is more concerned about her family contracting COVID-19 in the community than about working at the hospital.
“I believe it is sometimes cleaner than even my house,” she said with a laugh. “I feel safe here.”
At the end of each shift she changes her shoes and coat before driving home, and her clothes go in the washing machine as soon as she gets in the door, she said.
Wade, also, said she doesn’t worry about contracting the virus.
“I didn’t really get too upset about it because we’ve been around so much and through so much that I figure that as long as we use our protective gear (we’re safe),” she said.
The safety of all patients and staff is the number one priority of the cleaning crew, and being their “protectors” is satisfying work, Templeton added.
“You always have to look at this job as, ‘What if this was my mother coming into this bed?’ I want it cleaned properly,” she said.
“So we follow the protocol we’re supposed to follow across the board.”