Hospital Employee Union workers including 26 in Williams Lake are also on the front lines as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

‘Keeping workers safe is crucial in times of COVID-19’: Hospital Employees’ Union

Cannot fight a virus without housekeeping in hospitals, care homes, said Jennifer Whiteside

Keeping workers safe during the COVID-19 is crucial, said the secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union.

“These are absolutely extraordinary conditions that all health care workers are operating under and we really need to put a big emphasis on keeping workers safe,” said Jennifer Whiteside.

“You really cannot fight a virus without housekeepers. Their jobs are critical to the safe operation of our health care facilities.”

In Williams Lake the HEU represents 26 employees at Cariboo Memorial Hospital and Deni House.

Housekeeping employees are responsible for doing all of the cleaning, whether it’s enhanced cleaning in times of an outbreak, the routine cleaning or the in depth cleaning required in clinical care areas.

Read More: From inside the ER: B.C. doctor tells it like it is from the frontlines of COVID-19

During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, Whiteside said all health care facilities have to step up their cleaning.

“Because of the risk of exposure to the virus, workers need to be wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and that is a major issue that we’ve been dealing with employers on to ensure our workers have access to the appropriate personal protective equipment.”

Whiteside noted in addition to housekeeping workers, there are dietary workers, lab assistants who draw blood, porters who take patients around in the hospital and care-aids caring for elders in long-term care, who all face ‘extraordinary’ risks related to COVID-19.

“Even clerical workers who are making sure all the administrative parts of our health care system are working. It truly takes a team.”

Read More: B.C. health care workers gain access to virtual health care options

She said in the Interior Health Authority all health care workers are being required to wear gloves, gowns and masks, and the union is concerned that all its members will have access to PPEs they need and that the directions are clear from managers about what is necessary and supplies are available.

“All health care workers today are feeling a fair bit of stress and anxiety around the risks associated with being on the front lines of fighting COVID-19, but I think one advantage we have in Interior Health Authority is that housekeepers are actually employed by the health authority,” Whiteside said, adding unionized workers have benefits and supports to get them through the crisis.

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