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Hospital cleaning staff waiting for vaccine, part of Phase 2

Dr. Bonnie Henry says the ministry is looking at which jobs are the most at risk for infections and outbreaks.
COVID-19 patients from the mainland are being sent to Vancouver Island, including Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

Housekeepers working in British Columbia's hospitals have not received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but are expected to soon.

Housekeepers, as defined by Island Health, are employees who perform a variety of general cleaning and service functions at hospitals across B.C.

These staff members are responsible for cleaning, laundry, minor maintenance and repairs, garbage collection and removal along with other tasks.

In a written statement, the Ministry of Health confirms these employees have not yet been vaccinated.

“All hospital staff, including porters and support staff (food services, cleaning) are included in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout,” said a ministry spokesperson.

A woman, who works as a housekeeper at Royal Jubilee Hospital, has agreed to speak to Glacier Media if her identity is protected, out of fear of losing her job.

She says she enjoys her job but feels forgotten about in the vaccination rollout.

“I'm very proud that myself and none of my coworkers have contracted COVID-19 yet. But as someone who is exposed multiple times a day, every day, PPE can only do so much,” she says.“It feels as if we have been forgotten in the vaccination process.”

The Victoria worker says while working at the hospital, she wears a significant amount of personal protective equipment but there are constant risks.

“In the emergency room, I go into many isolation rooms every day and have daily exposure to COVID patients and sometimes even tuberculosis patients,” she says. “My biggest concern is sometimes the rooms aren't marked as isolation units by the time we arrive to clean the room, which could be a hazard to new employees.”

The woman has asked her manager when they can expect to be vaccinated. She was told April.

“The government is already talking about vaccinating the general public as if they have already finished vaccinating health-care workers,” she says. “They vaccinated prisoners before us.” 

A current housekeeping posting for the Royal Jubilee Hospital outlines that the individual will have to perform a variety of cleaning duties such as equipment cleaning and disinfecting of walls, vents, washrooms, beds and furniture.

Staff members will also be responsible for “distribution and pick-up of clean and soiled linen, bed-making and overall cleanliness of the facility.”

On Vancouver Island, Royal Jubilee and Nanaimo Regional General are the front-line COVID-19 hospitals.

On Monday (March 1), the B.C. government announced more than 400,000 people will be immunized from March to early April.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the ministry is looking into vaccinating other members of the public who work in jobs with the public.

"We have a whole group of people that we have come to appreciate... are a part of what keeps our economy [going]... keeps our society functioning during this pandemic, that is everyone from educators, poultry workers, grocery store workers,” the province's top doc said Monday.

Paramedics are included with health-care workers for vaccination because of what Henry describes as their “roles” within hospitals and care homes.

She added the ministry is looking at which jobs are the most at risk for infections and outbreaks.

“We will be looking at that in some details and being able to provide a risk-based approach to those populations as well as we learn more about how much vaccine we are getting when,” said Henry. 

“Those are all details we are continuing to work on.”

Housekeeping and food services are contracted out to an external provider for some Island Health hospitals.

If you're a housekeeper who's interested in sharing your thoughts about this subject, please contact reporter Alanna Kelly, at [email protected].

Editor's note: This story was updated to include information provided by a housekeeper at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

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