‘They are frontline workers’: Hidden heroes of the pandemic, hospital housekeepers

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GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – We’ve seen doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals battling the frontlines; but there is another group of hidden heroes inside hospitals: hospital housekeepers.

The housekeepers go in with the nurses and doctors every day. They’re exposed just as much.

“They are a frontline worker, they are in the rooms just as much as we are,” Nikki Walters, Tidelands Health ICU nurse, said.

Naomi Thomas, the lead housekeeper at Tidelands Health, has worked there for 22 years. She and a Tidelands Health ICU nurse, Nikki Walters, work alongside each other and help each other suit up in protective gear as they battle the frontlines together.

“You have to love what you do,” Thomas said. “That’s all I can say. You have to love what you do. It is a ministry behind this job. So you have to love what you do.”

It’s a lot of work to clean COVID-19 infected rooms during the pandemic, but Thomas willingly suits up in protective gear every day.

“If you’re going into a COVID room, you have to put on shoe covers. You have to put on two pairs of gloves. You have to put on your gown. You have to put on your glasses and face shield,” Thomas said.

Behind hospital doors, the list of housekeeping duties during COVID-19 has gotten longer. The description goes well beyond just cleaning.

“I love doing what I do. I love cleaning, and I love meeting people,” Thomas said.”We start by cleaning the sink, we mop the rooms, pull trash, red bags.”

When the pandemic started, the hospital told nurses to keep all staff not hands-on out of the COVID-19 infected rooms. Nurses had to take on the housekeeping roles for a short period.

Now, the housekeeping team willingly shows up prepared to clean and help anyway in full protective gear.

“We are appreciative because they don’t have to do that. They do it to help us,” Walters said.

Thomas sees patients struggling to survive the pandemic inside the hospital. That’s why she says her job has also become a ministry.

“A lot of time they’re nervous, they’re scared, they’re afraid for their life, so you get to try to minister them and try to calm them down and let them know that it’s all right, everything all right. Everyone’s working hard to do what they do,” Thomas said. “Nurses working hard, you have a good nurse, good doctor, and that makes them feel good about themself where they can kind of calm down.”

The ICU nurses working alongside Naomi say hospital housekeepers are exposed just as much as they are and are on the front line.

Thomas says even as a team leader, she admits it can be fearful at times, but she always brings her housekeeping team together to do what they need to do in order to get in and out of the rooms.

“With Ms. Naomi in particular, there are just no complaints ever, you know, we get much praise as nurses and doctors, and they don’t. I don’t even know if most people know they go into the rooms and at Tidelands particularly, they’re just so extremely helpful, and they don’t have to be that’s the biggest thing,” Walters said.

Tidelands Health housekeepers were offered the opportunity to get vaccinated in the first phase.

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