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essential staff

Hospital cleaners in Cork: 'I've had one day off in a month, and I wouldn't have it any other way'

Ian Morely says that Cork University Hospital has an “eerie” atmosphere at the moment: “Everybody is nervous.”

Fiona Fiona Grant Siptu Siptu

FIONA GRANT AND Ian Morely have the physically taxing task of cleaning hospital wards at Cork University Hospital.

Fiona has been doing the job for almost 30 years.

The work is intensive. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, a ward would be cleaned over the course of an eight-hour shift, which would mean cleaning four large rooms, one four-bedded room, one two-bedded room and five single rooms, holding around 30 patients in total.

It’s exhausting, detailed work anyway, and with the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s now “an awful lot of extra cleaning” to do. Fiona has worked a large number of extra shifts in recent weeks to play her part on the team: 

I have had one day off in a month. I wouldn’t have it any other way, it has to be done, we work as a team and we’re very proud of the work we do.

Ian Morely – who works at the Emergency Department at CUH and is, like Fiona, a member of Siptu – says that the hospital is both “manic” and “quieter for now”.

Even though the number of people in the hospital has decreased with only patients and employees allowed in Cork University Hospital, the workload has increased, and it’s a lot more emotionally draining.

cuh ian morey-2 Ian Morely Siptu Siptu

He used to work five-day weeks on eight-hour shifts, and is now on 12-hour shifts – working four days one week, and three days the next week.

“[Our work] needs to be a lot more detailed, we can’t afford to miss anything,” Ian says. Extra staff have been sent to help the cleaning teams, so that they’re not as under pressure as they had been in previous weeks. 

“We still have our general cleaning on top of this. It’s stressful [both] physically and mentally.”

“I am worried going in there. I can’t even explain how worried I am going in there because who knows if it’s the time you’re going to catch Covid.”

He says that working in the hospital is totally different now, and can be “eerie”.

“You have to walk on the left of the corridors for social distancing, [signs] go on the floors,” Ian explains. 

“They have security at the doors making sure everybody, every staff member that come in wash their hands, and they take bags from visitors who can’t come in to the hospital, and they’ll work out how to get it to the patient.

There’s extra staff everywhere in the hospital waiting for this big boom to hit. Everybody is nervous, there are tensions there that’s never been there before. 
People are so stressed that they’ve been arguing – I’ve never seen that before. Elderly people coming in are especially nervous, they are in tears coming out of the ambulance. They’re scared of dying, scared of losing their life. it’s so sad to see.

They are just two workers of around 300 housekeeping staff at Cork University Hospital, where it is all hands on deck to deal with the crisis. 

Among the other staff are the security, the porters, the catering staff, the clerical workers and the builders who are adapting offices in hospitals into rooms for patients.

“Everybody is on the same level. We really appreciate the recognition that they are giving us,” says Ian. 

SIPTUdigital / YouTube

Correcting one another

He says that there is a real sense of all staff looking out for each other. 

“At lunchtime in the canteen we’re all sitting two metres apart, and there is people coming along saying ‘listen, you’re too close’.

“I’ve said it to people myself you know: would you mind washing your hands, sterilising your hands there, you didn’t do it, and they’d apologise straight away because they’re thinking of the next patient.

It’s not done out of laziness, it’s done out of stress taking over your mind. But we all watch each other. 

He said that there’s a ‘buddy system’ in the hospital – so that if there’s a deep-clean needed, they’ll do one at a time.

“So I’ll do one, you do the next, and I’ll do the third one. When I’m going in, the other housekeeper will double check my PPE, and when I go out, they watch me to make sure I’m taking off my PPE correctly.” 

When Fiona is asked if she’s worried about catching Covid-19, she says “I work in a hospital, I know the risks, I wouldn’t be working here otherwise.”

“To be honest with you, I don’t think about it. The patients are our priority really.”

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