Keeping a hospital clean during normal times is no easy feat. Add a global pandemic and this becomes more important — and trickier than ever. Across Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), the housekeeping team has stepped up to the challenge, working tirelessly to develop protocols to keep hospitals extra clean and everyone inside them safe.
“Since the start of the pandemic our entire team has done an amazing job of adapting to new protocols and working extra hard to keep our hospitals as clean as possible," says Maheshwari Prakash, Compass Crothall Healthcare Manager at Richmond Hospital. “What's been especially amazing to see is how positive everyone has been despite the challenging circumstances."
While many people think protocols simply entail wiping down surfaces more periodically, the procedures are actually much more complex than this. Here, we look at some of the special ways the housekeeping team has been working around the clock to keep people safe.
Wiping down a surface seems pretty straight-forward — soak a cloth in a cleaning product and wipe away. But the housekeeping team employs a special technique when it comes to wiping surfaces to minimize the spread of germs.
For starters, cloths are colour-coded: green for general cleaning and pink for washrooms. Cloths are folded so there are four usable sides, and surfaces are wiped twice using two different sides of the cloth. Once all four sides have been used, a new cloth takes over. It can take up to four cloths to clean one hospital bed. Used cloths are washed and sanitized in a commercial washer and dryer before being used again. Since COVID-19, the housekeeping team has upped their wiping frequency and started using a new cleaning product, one that's extra strong.
When a patient is discharged, the housekeeping staff completes what is called terminal clean, a multi-step process that can take over an hour to do.
To start, all linens including bed sheets and curtains are removed. The housekeeper will then sanitize and put on a new pair of gloves to dust the lights and vents and wipe down the walls, blinds and windows. Hands are once again sanitized and new gloves are put on before the bed is cleaned along with everything else in the room including the bedside table, chairs and any other equipment. Next, housekeeping cleans the washroom (with the pink cloth, of course) and everything — from the doorknob to the light switches to the sink — is thoroughly wiped. The floor is then mopped, a special rapid disinfectant ultraviolet light is swept over the room for one final deep disinfection and the room is made up with fresh linens and supplies.
Housekeeping is responsible for keeping the entire hospital clean, from operating rooms to inpatient rooms to offices and washrooms and everywhere in between, with each housekeeping specialist typically assigned to a specific unit. Public areas used to be cleaned once a day but are now cleaned three times a day, which includes all contact points such as chairs in waiting areas, elevator buttons and doorknobs.
Susan Serafin, an ICU housekeeping specialist at Richmond Hospital says life has changed a lot since the start of the pandemic. Her typical day now starts by putting on full PPE, sanitizing her hands and then beginning to clean.
“I love my job because I enjoy cleaning and keeping everyone safe," she says. “I've been able to make the best of the pandemic by doing my job and knowing that I'm contributing to peoples' safety."
Jill Liu, Support Services Manager says it's because of the dedication of people like Susan that we're able to ensure the hospital remains a safe and clean place for both patients and staff.
“There have been a lot of changes since March," she says. “From changes in protocols and procedures to reconfiguring offices and relocating patients. Even when these changes happened often and very quickly, the housekeeping team has consistently risen to the challenge and with a smile on their face. Thank you for doing what you do!"