The Colonel and the Housekeeper
June 11, 2020 3:48 PM   Subscribe

As the coronavirus pandemic has forced hospitals to impose strict restrictions on visitors and clergy, the work of people like Quinteros has become even more important, say health care experts. They don't just keep the rooms clean of harmful germs. Many also try to lighten the mood with smiles or jokes, provide encouragement when patients lose hope and offer an attentive ear when patients need to process their emotions. And so it was that a housekeeper from Guatemala and a retired Air Force colonel met in a hospital room in Florida. And slowly, one began to heal the other. "I don't think she realized at the time what she was doing for me," Denney told CNN in recent interview. "She was saving my life." (Daniel Burke, CNN)
Though hospital housekeepers are often measured by standards of productivity—how many rooms they clean—hospital executives are beginning to realize their larger importance.

Prose, the Duke doctor, said custodians are often ignored by doctors and other high-level hospital staff. But after studying their role and making a short documentary about them, he realized how crucial they are.

"We quickly realized that they often interact with patients more than physicians do," Prose has said, "and they do so with great compassion."
posted by Johnny Wallflower (13 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in the hospital for a week with no visitors, the housekeepers were truly a lifeline. I saw the same people several times, they remembered me, and we chatted. At the time I was recovering from malaria and had just gotten back from Cote d'Ivoire; the woman who I most distinctly remember was Ghanaian and spent a lot of time joshing me about how much better Ghanaian food is than Ivorian food, and generally just being kind and human at a time when I felt like shit, and was lonely and kind of scared. I hope that their really selfless and very brave work during COVID helps bring more recognition and improved working conditions and salaries for housekeeping/custodial staff at hospitals.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:37 PM on June 11 [36 favorites]

Maybe they could form an emotional laborers union.
posted by clockwork at 5:01 PM on June 11 [32 favorites]

Wonderful. Not only are they not providing enough PPE they are outsourcing psychological and spiritual care to the cleaning staff.

Isn't there a TV trope about this - the faithful Nanny who nurses her sick charge because being a selfless servant gives her superhuman powers to heal him when no one else can?
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:54 PM on June 11 [9 favorites]

I have to admit my first response was panic for a childhood close friend, who is also named Jason Denney, but is a Colonel in the Army instead. We’ve lost touch and I worried that he’d been this sick. Thank you for the story!
posted by purenitrous at 7:16 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

I agree that the framing of this in the CNN piece definitely echoes/uses problematic tropes. But at the same time, this story is happening in hospitals all over right now and it's good to throw light on this work and the risks people are taking on (voluntarily or involuntarily) to do it.

In the last few years I've had family in the hospital a bunch of times and the care work that non-medical hospital staff do for patients is so underrecognized. The links in the piece are better:

On general hospital housekeeping and care work-
Keepers of the House a 15 minute set of video interviews with hospital housekeepers about their interactions with patients as part of their work.

Being Valued and Devalued At Work (PDF) by Dutton, Debebe, and Wrzesniewski - linked from the Duke video - ("How do people doing hospital cleaning work feel about doing this kind of work, and how do interactions with other people at work affect the experience of this kind of job?")

And Covid risk intensifies this manyfold - the risks that cleaning staff are taking on needs to be recognized and compensated. This Baltimore Sun op-ed by Annette Brown from April describes her fear as a hospital cleaning worker and asks Congress to recognize that with actual support for workers in these jobs.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:21 PM on June 11 [9 favorites]

This is marginally better than the manic pixie dream girl trope I was expecting to find. But also worse.

Because what they're saying is housekeeping staff, while having always been essential and underpaid is now taking on additional work that is extremely taxing, possibly endangering even with appropriate PPE, and is frankly traumatic because many of these patients have died or will die. These workers have been given instructions on how to help patients stay alive. Have they been given support for when the patients die?

And I will bet a donut that they have not received raises, since they're being lauded as heroes.
posted by bilabial at 8:02 PM on June 11 [29 favorites]

No raise, but I'm sure free Little Ceaser's "pizza" in the break room that's already cold by the time the third shift starts their day. And donated cloth masks from local do-gooders who's do-goodery is being co-opted by hospital administration in order to do the absolute bare minimum to not seem like the ghoulish monsters they pretty much are.
posted by flamk at 8:33 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]

how much better Ghanaian food is than Ivorian food

I have not had Ivorian food and thus cannot comment on the comparison, but the Ghanaian food I've had was memorably outstanding.

posted by eviemath at 8:37 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

"We quickly realized that they often interact with patients more than physicians do," Prose has said, "and they do so with great compassion."

Two bars, lower than they should be, that these folks clear by a mile. I hope the realization that cleaners, cashiers, food service workers, etc are truly essential lasts beyond the current situation and results in better pay and conditions for them all.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 5:48 AM on June 12 [7 favorites]

I hope the realization that cleaners, cashiers, food service workers, etc are truly essential lasts beyond the current situation and results in better pay and conditions for them all.

HAHAHAHAhahahaa no. We're at Stage Four capitalism, and no oncology department can treat it. I honestly have so little hope for the world right now.
posted by corvikate at 7:46 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]

I’m annoyed at "I don’t think she realized...". It reframes a skilled intervention as something out of the control of the intervening person. Dude! She’s seen a lot more patients than you have, she’s been taught how to talk to COVID-19 patients especially, she probably indicated care for you in your actual conversations! She probably knew! That’s okay! Except that it means she deserves the work conditions of a skilled and vital worker, not an occasional free meal.

Little goddamn Dorrit floating around here still.
posted by clew at 10:16 AM on June 12 [9 favorites]

"I don't think she realized at the time what she was doing for me,"

yeah I really wouldn't be surprised to learn that she realized exactly what she was doing. the choice to quote him first and foremost, and to interview her as an afterthought, says a lot. those journalistic choices belittle her more than anything that guy said about her.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:23 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the framing of this article is icky, IMHO. If it was a story about Rosaura Quinteros, and a celebration of how she is saving lives, and isn't compensated well enough, and how a for profit healthcare system steals the emotional labor of their least paid staff members, well, that would be a story worth reading.

But to use a brown woman to center the story around a white man who was served by the brown woman...just no. Be better, CNN.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 6:37 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]

« Older V   |   "Those neural nets sure are weird, making all... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments