This is part 2 of a three-part article where Facility Cleaning Decisions spoke with facility cleaning executives about how the pandemic impacted their departments. 

What were the biggest management hurdles you faced in the last 12 months?

BEENE: There is a legitimate fear of cleaning COVID-positive patient rooms because of the potential of contracting the virus. It was hard to explain to the housekeepers the important role that they’re playing in the patient’s life, while they’re also thinking of themselves and their families, and rightfully so.

We made a point to talk with the staff to discuss their fears, while also assuring them that we would use all precautionary measures to insure their safety. We let the staff know that we’re here to offer any assistance or further education that they might need to do their jobs safely and effectively. This helped to ease their concerns.

JONES: The biggest fear was of the district laying off staff. We had a hiring freeze in April 2020 and fell short by roughly 16 full-time employees (FTE). We made an arrangement with the University of Missouri because they needed staff, so we sent them 22 FTEs. The University gave them a 10 percent increase in wages and paid all staff benefits, including insurance. 

By my calculation, the move saved our district around $65,000 per month, but it only lasted roughly two months. The University cancelled the agreement due to cost.

A huge challenge now — with school back to 100 percent in-person learning — is finding and hiring staff. We are 11 full-time employees (FTEs) short. Prior to the pandemic, I would hold interviews twice per week, with an average of four to five people each time. Now, I interview only one day per week and I'm lucky if I have four candidates total.

Columbia, Missouri, has a very low unemployment rate, and many people do not need to work if they are collecting both state and federal unemployment.

BALDWIN: Staffing has been our biggest hurdle. We experienced a reduction of temporary staffing and were unable to fill vacancies. To offset that, staff that would have been furloughed were reassigned instead. The Facilities Division initiated a program called "Matching Workers to Work," temporarily reassigning workers to complete tasks that would not have been able to be completed during the normal Fall and Spring semesters.

Like many others, we struggled with obtaining proper personal protective equipment, including masks. In an effort to keep our staff safe, we solicited the help of students from our College of Textiles. They made masks for the entire housekeeping department until the supply chain caught up.

KING: Staffing was an ongoing challenge. Everyone had to pitch in, including staff from other areas of the hospital who were maybe working fewer hours. Even leadership stepped in to cover areas where needed.

How has the perception of cleaning changed at your facility over the last year?

JONES: When COVID started, we were under a microscope as teachers and staff inspected every aspect of their classroom for cleanliness. Surfaces needed to be almost like a hotel room or we would hear about it. This put a lot of pressure on our staff. We increased the use of microfiber cloths, cleaning rooms using only one cloth per room. I think I ordered around 5,000 microfiber rags of various colors.

I expect that we may forever be under a microscope with our cleaning program. 

BEENE: I don't think the perception of our cleaning has changed, just increased in certain areas. But I do expect cleaning scrutiny to grow and continue into the future.

KING: If there were any demands, we met them. There were times we had to reinvent the process, but we did a remarkable job. Overall, our facility staff and occupants always knew the importance of cleaning and disinfecting. We have always had the resources necessary to provide clean rooms and public areas. One piece would be to maybe put more focus on the public areas — to go through and thoroughly clean more frequently on a daily basis, not just weekly.

previous page of this article:
How The COVID-19 Pandemic Changed Cleaning
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Cleaning Facilities As Pandemic Threats Recede