Hospital cleaners and porters unsung heroes in war against Covid-19
Like their medically qualified counterparts, these selfless men and women place their lives in danger at every turn as they play a crucial, part in the national war against this global disease.
They are the hospital cleaners and porters whose daily sacrifices are widely unrecognised but whose contribution is pivotal in stemming the Covid-19 tidal wave now reaching its peak across South Africa.
Marilyn Padmaker, a general worker at Tygerberg Hospital, said working during lockdown has seen many changes in the way her work is carried out.
“Usually we had a routine when cleaning, now our cleaning is object-based. We would clean once or twice in shifts, now we are much busier. In my 12 years working here I have never experienced something like this,” said Padmaker.
She described her typical day working during the pandemic as tough but she still tries to maintain a positive mindset.
“When on duty, I arrive at work and put on personal protective equipment (PPE). I then assemble my cleaning trolley, making sure I have all the chemicals needed. I start by wiping down all the surfaces before I start mopping the floors. I have to also make sure the area around the patients is always clean and each patient gets their food.”
When it comes to protecting her family she ensures she sanitises but is always worried that her family may get infected because of the work she does.
“I do have measures in place when I get home like removing the clothes I wore at work and wearing a mask at home,” she said.
Khaya Xaba national spokesperson for National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union said workers who serve as housekeeping need protection too as they are front-line workers.
“Porters and cleaners do also access Covid-19 wards and ICU, in this regard, they should be provided with sufficient PPEs, they should be trained on how to use the PPEs and how to deal with Covid-19. These workers should also receive mental health services and counselling because they are anxious and scared of the virus,” said Xaba.
He added that the government should also expedite the issue of payment of overtime and that these workers have enough catering and transport.
Porter, Mzwamadoda Tembani, said working during Covid-19 has been very stressful and difficult.
“My family life has been badly affected because I have a special- needs child who wants to be with me when I get home from work. I can’t just let him. I have to remove my clothes and bathe before I can concentrate on him and let him be with me,” said Tembani.
He added that when he takes a taxi to work he feels people are afraid of him because he works at a hospital.
“They think I have the virus. The thing is we have to teach people how to treat people. When at work and I have to fetch a patient to take them to the theatre, I have to sanitise the whole gate before taking that patient,” said Tembani.
Groote Schuur Hospital’s housekeeping staff said their job has not changed but it is very different given the circumstances.
“We need to help carry the load. Every day brings a new challenge and we have to face it. We have to do our jobs as best as we can to make a difference with what is going on. We are privileged to have a job right now,” said Anna Windrogel, housekeeping supervisor for the hospital.
“So many of my colleagues got sick and recovered. This gave me the courage to come to work every morning. We know there is hope.
“ Now, as long as there are PPEs we get the job done. I have my sister’s son who works here with me so we can discuss what we went through in the day, this helps a lot. We also practise good hygiene to keep the family safe,” said Windrogel.
Siyabonga Mziwake, a porter at Groote Schuur said these were crucial times where they have to be extra careful when transporting patients in the hospital.
“Most people fear for their lives. We do have PPE and we sanitise all the time. I need to keep a positive mind all the time because I am dealing with the public,” he said. He added that to ensure his family’s safety he sanitises and manages his movements around them.