As much as clinical colleagues, an unseen army of support staff waged battled on COVID-19 and made it possible for care to be delivered safely.
Cleaning every nook and cranny
Housekeepers risk exposure to pathogens when cleaning up and handling medical waste. Charity Naw Su Myat Phyu worked in the Isolation Ward (IW), cleaning the rooms of COVID-19 patients. She was grateful for the many training sessions she had attended. “At first, I was afraid. Then I thought, ‘I can do it because I have already been working in the IW for two years, so I know how to do hand hygiene and wear PPE to protect myself’. Before this, we were training for Ebola. Compared with Ebola, I did not think that COVID-19 was as frightening.”
A housekeeper positions mobile UV lamps in an isolation room. SGH IPE uses these lamps as an adjunct to terminal cleaning.
The work was tiring. It took two hours to clean a room after a patient had been discharged, and 40 minutes if the room was occupied. Equally challenging was the instruction to avoid talking to the patient to minimise the risk of infection. “We were told not to talk to the patient in the room. But it was so unnatural and unkind to ignore them.”
Each day after she entered the IW, Charity was not allowed to leave the premises until the end of her shift. Where she once went to the rest area in the hospital to meet her fellow housekeepers, now she could only connect with them over the phone or video calls. Her routine was just home-to-work, and then a shower, before heading home again.
“We are cleaning the escalator hand rails, lift buttons and other public areas even more times than usual. It’s tiring at times but I know this is important in preventing the virus from going around,” says Mr Umarul Naim Bin Bacok, Housekeeping, and Father of a 2 year 7-month-old baby.
Cut off from home
Many housekeepers are Malaysians who cross the border daily to Singapore to work. They found themselves stranded when the Malaysian government introduced a Movement Control Order (MCO) on 18 March 2020. Housekeeper Muhammad Nurasyraf bin Rosdi, who worked in the ED, remembered the day he heard the news. “I had just finished my shift at 7:00am when my manager informed us that the border would close at midnight. She assured us, ‘Don’t worry, we are arranging accommodation for you.’ Thinking it was going to last just two weeks, I went home to pack my belongings. Little did I know that it was going to be extended again and again. It was almost a year before I finally went home, in January 2021, to help my wife and two-year-old daughter to move from Johor Bahru to Selangor, where they could be with my wife's parents.”
His colleague, Khalyani Dilly Kannan, similarly found herself cut off from her husband and two-year-old daughter who lived in Johor Bahru. “I used to think that the daily commute was tiring. But I’d gladly do it now.”