Hospital Janitors Often Overlooked as Essential Workers on the Coronavirus Front Lines

Johnny Lopez
June 30, 2020 - 12:44 pm

    Doctors, nurses, EMT staff and other healthcare workers have been celebrated for being heroes on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

    But hospital janitorial staff are often overlooked as essential workers even as many put themselves at risk working 12-hours days sanitizing and disinfecting medical buildings, at times without proper protective equipment.

    Jane Hopkins, executive vice president of Service Employees International Union's Northwest chapter, stressed how integral the role of environmental service workers is in healthcare.

    “In a hospital, they’re just as important as a doctor — they’re just doing a completely different job,” Hopkins told USA Today.

    Hopkins believes one of the reasons they can be overlooked is because many are often minorities.

    “We talk about heroes, but we don’t talk about them,” Hopkins added. "Decades of institutionalized racism and socially acceptable racism has made it seem like their jobs are not important.”

    Justo Mejia, an environmental service worker at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles, cleans rooms in the respiratory unit and shared how he is often denied personal protective equipment by his supervisors.

    “You’re always on the defensive,” Mejia told the outlet. “You’re ready to fight with them if they don’t give you your PPE.”

    In a statement to USA Today, Northridge Hospital Medical Center said it has "followed CDC guidelines on personal protective equipment from the beginning of this pandemic and we adapt and implement new policies to comply with their recommendations."

    In addition to her regular job duties, Francesca Cepeda, an environmental service worker at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in New York, often has to translate English for Spanish-speaking patients.

    “As soon as I go in the room, they calm down. I love it. I tell them, ‘I am here to help you,'" said Cepeda.

    Despite not getting accolades like doctors and nurses, Cepada knows the importance environmental service workers play in the healthcare system.

    She added: “At some point, we’re all taking care of the patients.”

    Luis Padilla, an environmental service tech at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, has slept in his car over fears of possibly infecting family members after long days at the hospital during the early days of the pandemic.

    He’s now fearful a second wave of coronavirus may erupt in the months to come, but hopeful that people will realize the vital service workers like himself play in controlling the virus.

    “We’re heroes too. We’d like to have some recognition also,” Padilla said, before adding, “And we’d love to get hazard pay.”

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