Hospital Housekeepers Critical to Patient Safety

Gypsy Smith was working in a hotel when the pandemic hit Oregon; and as the travel industry was hit hard by the health crisis, Ms. Smith decided to work in healthcare. Healthcare seemed like a stable choice in the ever-changing world where COVID wreaked havoc. Believing that she would have good healthcare and wages, with solid benefits, she accepted a role as housekeeper at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center. Her beliefs were quickly challenged, and her new healthcare world became fraught with risks and sacrifices needed to keep her community safe and provide the quality care patients deserve.

Ms. Smith speaks of the challenges in the beginning of the pandemic of limited access to personal protective equipment as she cleaned rooms vacated by COVID patients, afraid she would contract the deadly virus and take it home to her vulnerable family members with cancer, heart disease, and disabilities. New protocols were put in place to sanitize rooms and stem the flow of COVID cases. She learned the ropes and kept showing up every day to make sure patients were safe and healthy, oftentimes being the only housekeeper in the whole hospital for a shift. The staffing crisis before the pandemic only made worse by surging COVID patients.

Ms. Smith’s worst fears were realized when she recently tested positive for COVID. Extra precautions had to be taken to care for vulnerable family members and she is still feeling weak. Despite the risks she has faced, and even with contracting this virus, she has not received any hazard wage increases or bonuses and deals with high costs for her medical benefits. In fact, as Ms. Smith struggles to make ends meet, she now faces another threat – having her job outsourced to a firm based in another state.

McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center management is proposing to outsource Gypsy’s job along with nearly 100 of her coworkers in housekeeping, dietary, and linen roles. For some of her coworkers, they have devoted decades to McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center and are now facing job uncertainty after two years on the frontlines of this pandemic. These positions are the backbone of hospitals and are critical in keeping patients safe and healthy.

Housekeepers and dietary workers are crucial to preventing the spread of infection and ensuring patients’ nutrition needs are being met, and they should be part of the team of staff employed by the hospital. Outsourcing those jobs to outside contractors takes good jobs out of our community, and it is grossly unfair to the dedicated hospital workers who have put their lives on the line to provide great patient care.

Despite all that she has faced, Ms. Smith does not regret her decision to work in healthcare because it’s rewarding to care for patients, though she admits this latest surge in COVID is exhausting. She feels ​​that outsourcing creates instability for patients and workers alike, and questions why management would make this decision at a time when the community should be able to count on a clean hospital and a reliable workforce. Instead of recognition for her hard and important work, Ms. Smith was disciplined recently by management which she believes is the result of her being outspoken about stopping the outsourcing of her job and speaking up for her and her fellow workers’ union rights.

Ms. Smith and her coworkers remain united in standing up for patient safety and care, and they will continue to be leaders in their community to protect jobs and to protect patients.

You can learn more about outsourcing at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center and support Ms. Smith and her coworkers here.

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