Responses to the article "Long-term care work is essential but essentially under-recognized"

Thank you for the article you published last May. It is the closest to reality I have read. I also believe it is the reality not only in long-term care but also in our retirement residences. As a housekeeper in senior care, I can share what it’s like in this hands-on occupation, and I hope my story touches many.

For many months, our seniors’ residence prevented COVID-19 from entering our doors. On Dec. 13, we had an outbreak, and another one in March.

When the “expert” number crunchers decide that it should take a housekeeper in a retirement residence 25 minutes to complete a studio suite, 40 for a one-bedroom, 45 for a one-bedroom- plus-den, or 50 to 60 minutes for a large two-bedroom/two bath, I more than welcome their brilliant suggestions for time efficiency.

Yes, straight cleaning should take the above approximate time, but how long does it take to change a queen size duvet cover … solo?

We are taking care of the elderly. Many are facing health challenges, confined to their suites more often in unusual and incredibly lonely and isolating times during this pandemic. I saw many tears as we approached the holiday season, and they have continued.

A dropped urinal (it was full)! A spill in the elevator. Another resident thinks her cat got out and must have escaped! It is now 9:55 a.m., and I haven’t started the required eight suites for the 7.5-hour work day. Kindness and attention take time. Three times in 10 minutes, one resident asks me if she has school today. One mild-mannered gentleman shows me a picture of big-breasted models in the newspaper. “Their fathers would be ashamed!” I reply jokingly. Another resident wonders why she is having ice cream today. Does that mean she is leaving? Every day is special. Enjoy your ice cream.

What day is it today? A stop to check the ever-changing housekeeping schedule that is on my cellphone. (Thankfully, I usually get the right day without too much effort.) “Someone has let my cat out and the one that’s in there doesn’t belong to me!” The cat-owning resident is very agitated. I reassure her and call for assistance from a very skilled personal support worker.

Another lonely resident wants to show me beautiful portraits of herself. She always looks like a movie star. And that smile? I swear she resembles Loretta Young! This happens most every Monday. A resident asks for assistance to turn on the washing machine; the push-turn-pull sequence on the full-size machines can often be challenging physically or cognitively. Someone needs help with the heavy door at the garbage chute. There’s a call from the concierge, and the kitchen needs more paper towels! Another resident from the assisted-living floor is lost and I take her back to her floor.

This occupation involves more than the simple cleaning of suites. We will always do our best to complete the assigned work on any given day, and I believe it is the same for all the dedicated people who work in our seniors’ residences. I ask you to remember that between changing beds, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming, mopping and laundry (you read it right: there is no assigned laundry staff at the residence where I work), many small needs are being met with kindness, respect, attention, a little humour and time. It is something we would all want for our moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas should we be lucky enough to have them with us.

The next time the experts in time management point out the textbook scenarios, this is a gentle reminder that your housekeepers are not only the eyes and ears of your retirement residences, they are also the heart.

Nancy Whitworth May 4, 2021