COVID-19: Challenges Continue for Environmental Services, Maintenance

January 20, 2021

Facilities departments have always been “out of sight, out of mind” operations in healthcare facilities. Building occupants only tend to think of maintenance and engineering technicians when, for example, a roof leaks or an office is too hot or too cold. But these long-held feelings of being overlooked and underappreciated have never been greater than they are during COVID-19 pandemic.

As hospitalizations spiraled out of control last spring, thousands of people stood at windows and on front porches or balconies each evening, clapping for doctors and nurses and emergency workers who were risking their lives to care for the sick and dying. That praise was well deserved, but it left out millions of nursing aides, housekeepers, medical assistants, food service workers, and many more healthcare workers largely invisible to the general public, according to Nonprofit Quarterly.

Ten months into the crisis, as COVID-19 surges across the country, millions of low-wage workers who have been crucial to our COVID response are demanding to be prioritized, so that they can stay safe and protect their families from a sometimes-fatal disease.

Beyond doctors and nurses, another 7 million workers occupy “low-wage” roles that also involve direct contact with patients, including environmental service workers, janitors, and kitchen and dining workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and other residential care settings.

These workers earn a median wage of $13.48 per hour. Among the lowest paid are home health and personal care workers, who earn a median hourly wage of $11.57.

Beyond wages, it is clear that PPE shortages are one of the key factors that put healthcare workers at risk — and as cases surge again, the supply problem continues to be unresolved. 

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Topic Area: Maintenance and Operations


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