Nova Scotia

'This is no joke,' says hospital housekeeper on front lines of COVID-19

Maria Boutilier was used to people taking her job for granted, but the Halifax Infirmary housekeeper who plays a vital role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 says that's no longer the case.

‘Now people really understand the responsibility that we have'

Hospitals across the province have increased the amount of cleaning they do to limit the spread of COVID-19. (Robert Short/CBC)

Maria Boutilier was used to people taking her job for granted. But the Halifax Infirmary housekeeper who's working hard to curb the spread of COVID-19 says that's no longer the case.

"I think now people really understand the responsibility that we have as housekeepers," Boutilier, who works in the hospital's emergency department, told CBC's Information Morning. "We're all just really showing what we're made of."

Two Nova Scotians have now died due to complications with COVID-19 as the number of confirmed cases in the province rose to 373 on Thursday. 

Boutilier said the demands of her job "have definitely increased" since the pandemic started. She has daily safety meetings and wears a gown, gloves and mask when she cleans. She also takes her temperature every day to make sure she hasn't been infected. 

But she said it's the precautions taken outside hospitals that will truly make the difference.

Maria Boutilier has worked as a housekeeper at the Halifax Infirmary for 15 years. (Maria Boutilier)

As Nova Scotians get ready for Easter weekend in isolation, she's urging everyone to remember how important it is to practise physical distancing, wash hands and stay home. 

"That will save all of us a situation where we could end up being overloaded in the hospital system. I mean we really need to be preventative here. This is no joke," she said. 

'Think on your feet'

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has ramped up cleaning at hospitals, and in some cases more staff have been brought in to help.

Two unions that represent hospital cleaners in the province have said many staff are swamped with work and feeling scared. 

But Boutilier, who has worked at the Halifax Infirmary for 15 years, said her department is staying positive. 

She's working the same hours she was before the pandemic. The biggest challenge now is managing her time to get all the extra cleaning done, she said.

"You're really having to think on your feet," she said. "It's just a matter of kind of staying calm and focused and getting the job and the tasks done."

Enough supplies?

Hospital staff elsewhere in Canada have spoken out about not having enough protective equipment to safely do their jobs. But Boutilier said so far her department has been well stocked.

She's at the front line of the virus, making sure surfaces are disinfected so it doesn't spread to staff, families or other patients at the hospital. 

That's a big responsibility, she said. When she's feeling stressed or has questions she talks with one of the ER nurses or doctors and takes a quick moment to herself.

"If you feel overwhelmed, you just kind of step back, go and have a few minutes to yourself and then kind of regroup," she said. 

Boutilier said she loves her job for the comradery with her co-workers and the sense of belonging it brings. 

This crisis has brought that into even greater focus.

"I think what's happening now is that we're all really pulling together and we want to fight this virus. We want this done and over with."

With files from CBC's Information Morning