Nancy Matthews has worked Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville for the past 25 years, most of which as a housekeeper. As the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and the number of hospital outbreaks continues to grow, Nancy reflects on the harsh memories from the early days of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 was new, so I couldn’t expect anyone to have all the answers, but I felt the government could have done more to ensure our safety. My health and safety background tells me that it is better to overprotect healthcare workers than the alternative. In the beginning, we as housekeepers were told we were not in direct contact with patients, which we know isn’t true. This meant we were not told about possible COVID-19 exposure unless we were deemed in direct contact for 15 minutes. We were also told not to wear masks as they would not protect us. Now, six months later, you can’t leave your house without one, let alone work any position in a hospital.”
Heading into the second wave, Nancy feels better protected and thanks her union SEIU Healthcare for partnering with Unifor and CUPE to sue the government, leading to improvements to Directive #5, which provides clear guidance that N-95 or superior protection masks, face shields and other equipment are to be provided to healthcare staff working on the front line in long-term care facilities or hospitals dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks.
Despite the added protections, Nancy says hospitals workers still go to work each day fearing the virus, leading to mental burnout for many. This led to Nancy taking time off from work.
“I was, and still remain terrified of infecting a loved one because of where I work. Many of us spent time isolating from our family members, especially those who are older like my mother, but that isolation comes at a mental cost that can be just as damaging as COVID-19. No matter where you work in the hospital, what you do or how much PPE you have – there is no escaping being impacted by COVID-19.”
While Nancy has a ton of pride in the work that she does, she has always felt that housekeepers were undervalued and unappreciated by the government and the public. Those feelings intensified during COVID-19.
“Most of the time we are not looked at as equals to higher-regarded positions like nurses and doctors, but the work we do is important because it not only protects our patients, but all hospital staff. Our skills and knowledge in infection control measures keeps everyone safe and our work, especially during a pandemic, does save lives. Housekeepers may have not gone to school to become a “healthcare hero” you hear about from the government on the news, but our work is still essential.”
The Ford government’s recent decision to only give PSWs a wage increase was also something that showed Nancy the disrespect and lack of education about her position.
“It’s no surprise we were left out of this new $3 wage increase. The Ford government needs to educate themselves more on the value that workers like housekeepers bring to our healthcare system. Our union did a great job getting more workers pandemic pay during the first wave, but apparently the government already forgot how valuable we all are.”