CHICAGO (CBS) — Nurses already have their hands full during the coronavirus pandemic, and now, some have to perform regular cleaning services because their hospital is keeping regular housekeepers away from COVID-19 patients.

CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas learned of a push at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center to lighten the load.

“There’s a lot of fear and frustration from the nurses,” said Terence Yee.

Yee is a nurse at UIC Medical Center, where a group of nurses have tested positive for COVID-19.

He is also president of the Illinois Nurses Association, a union that has called for more protective gear like N95 masks.

“it’s getting a little bit better and they’re providing us at least one mask per nurse, per staff, that they can wear all day,” Yee said.

But the workload remains heavy as the COVID-19 patient count grows.

Nurses are taking on new tasks as the hospital tries to limit the spread.

The hospital told the staff in a March 21 memo that nursing personnel who were already in the room should clean and disinfect surfaces and remove trash and linens from COVID-19 patients’ rooms.

“They’re doing as much as they can to take care of their patients and then you have the housekeeping duties on top of that,” Yee said.

The memo said the regular housekeepers, known as environmental services, should not be in the same room as a COVID-19 patient.

Yee said last week, he had to restock the soap and paper towels in a patient’s room. He is also the one who put on protective gear and took a swab for a COVID-19 patient.

“Thank God the next day, he came back to be negative,” Yee said.

The nurses’ union is asking the hospital to reconsider the new policy. They say as more patients come in, nurses need more help.

“Eventually, nurses would also get tired. We’re just human,” Yee said. “We could do it for a certain amount of time.”

The memo said for now, the regular housekeepers with environmental services should still disinfect the rooms after COVID-19 patients leave, wearing proper protective gear.

Yee said if the policy does change, they should also wear that gear while taking out the trash or linens, or if they’re around the patient at any time.

When we reached out to the hospital, they said in some cases nursing personnel will be allowed in the same room as COVID-19 patients to help clean now that the hospital has more PPE. A spokesperson said they are still trying to limit the number of staff entering. Nurses will still be taking care of some of the trash and linens as well.
The spokesperson said many hospital tasks are being consolidated or temporarily reassigned to conserve PPE and limit the number of people exposed to patients.

Tim McNicholas