Nova Scotia

Hospital cleaners 'working full tilt' despite COVID-19 threat

Two unions representing hospital cleaners in the province say their members are working hard to eliminate COVID-19 on any hospital surfaces, all while worrying about contracting the virus themselves.

'They're definitely feeling the pressure and our members are afraid'

Hospitals across the province have increased cleaning and some facilities have hired additional cleaners to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock)

Extremely busy and scary. That's how hospital cleaners describe their work as they struggle to keep buildings disinfected to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Our cleaners are overwhelmed right now, they're working full tilt," said Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, which represents some hospital cleaners.

"They're definitely feeling the pressure and our members are afraid." 

COVID-19 can survive for three days on plastic and stainless steel so it's vital to make sure hospital surfaces are clean.

The cleaners are worried that in their attempt to clean away all traces of the virus they, too, may become infected. But that hasn't stopped them from coming to work. 

They are swamped, especially since the Nova Scotia Health Authority stepped up its cleaning regimen to deal with COVID-19. 

"It's just more enhanced cleanup protocols ," said MacLean. "So they're cleaning, cleaning and coming back and cleaning again. They're just trying to keep it as pristine as possible, given the situation we have in the hospitals with people coming and going."

Jason MacLean is the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

In some hospitals, additional staff have been added to keep up with demand, according to Bev Strachan. Strachan, with CUPE, represents hospital cleaners in hospitals in western and northern parts of the province. 

She said the new staff act like a second wave of cleaners "who will loop around, putting more attention on … wiping the high-touch areas in departments."

Those areas would include doorknobs and handrails. 

Some emergency departments have also removed the fabric dividers in rooms. They have been replaced by plastic dividers, which are easier to clean, according to Strachan. 

She hopes that the pandemic will make people realize just how important cleaners are and they will finally get the recognition they deserve. 

"They provide and invaluable service," she said

Bev Strachan is president of CUPE Local 8920. (Submitted by Bev Strachan)

MacLean hopes that recognition comes with some financial compensation. He said some private-sector employers are already giving their staff extra money while they work during the pandemic.   

Major grocery chains including Loblaws, Walmart and Sobeys are giving their front-line workers and extra $2 an hour.

"I'm hearing a lot of it from our members that they want risk pay or something like that, so that is truly an issue that is surfacing right now," said MacLean.

"People who are out there dealing with the public right now should be compensated differently than any normal day."

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