The invisible foundation of our health care system

A “guest” post by an unknown author, shared on the Lyme Listserv

Everyone treating COVID 19 patients are risking their lives. Doctors, nurses, respiratory, physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists, lab techs, social workers and a host of other professionals are on the front lines of an unprecedented health care battle and they are making do with dwindling resources. It’s as close to a worst case scenario as there can be.

There is also another group of health care workers that never get enough recognition or pay because they are the invisible foundation or our institutional health care systems. They are the housekeepers, maintenance personnel and food service workers who make sure that the patient care environment is safe, supportive and clean for the sick as well as for the other health care workers who make a lot more money than they do.

During my years of hospital nursing I was always in awe of the self-sacrificing work of the people who were called upon to clean up patient rooms after a discharge or a death. If floors were covered in vomit, blood or any other kind of foul human waste it was the housekeeping people who were summoned to make things clean and ready.

There would always be housekeeping people assigned to our floor on every shift and we considered them to be among our most valued co-workers. We had time to talk and learn about each other’s lives. We tracked each other’s significant milestones in life and we felt that we had a unique bond that was solid and meaningful.

Even after I drifted away from hospital nursing I would see many of the housekeeping people during the course of daily events. We would catch up in line at the supermarket. Some even rose above their station and moved on to a more independent life, but most remained loyal to their institution as the years passed. I think that what kept most of them satisfied and engaged was the patient interaction that they had on a daily basis.

It is a little known fact, but nurses often rely on housekeeping people for information about the problems that hospitalized patients are having. Some patients tend to share more of their very personal feelings with the people who clean their room more than they share with doctors and nurses and any nurse worth his or her salt knows that.

At times when we could just not figure out why Mrs. Smith was not getting better or why she was having such a host of symptoms that made no sense we would consult with the people who had been cleaning her room for clues that we were not privy to. We often gleaned valuable information.

Now these valuable health care workers are also risking their lives to do the job they have done under less dangerous circumstances. They are rising to the occasion and they are among the most heroic of the heroes among us. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that they are among the most exposed to COVID 19 in the institutions caring for COVID 19 patients.

There are many heroes in this new battle and we need to take the time to recognize all of them.