Coronavirus: Supporting the front line

Tireless effort behind the scenes

Behind the fleet of front liners caring for Covid-19 patients is an army of supporters who are less visible, but equally important in the war against the pandemic. The Straits Times finds out how various departments in four hospitals have been assisting patients behind the scenes while battling their own challenges, from manpower shortages to export restrictions.

Environmental service associates Irme Mohd Zakwan (from left), Roslina Muhammad and Indo Rani Marimuthu at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. Mr Irme and Ms Roslina, both Malaysians, stayed back here to continue working amid the pandemic, and have not returned
Environmental service associates Irme Mohd Zakwan at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.PHOTO: KHOO TECK PUAT HOSPITAL
Environmental service associates Irme Mohd Zakwan (from left), Roslina Muhammad and Indo Rani Marimuthu at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. Mr Irme and Ms Roslina, both Malaysians, stayed back here to continue working amid the pandemic, and have not returned
Environmental service associates Roslina Muhammad (left) and Indo Rani Marimuthu (right) at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.PHOTOS: KHOO TECK PUAT HOSPITAL

On top of having to work more intensively during the Covid-19 period, environmental service associate Roslina Muhammad, 44, had an added emotional burden.

Since Malaysia's lockdown in March, the Malaysian, who works at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), has been separated from her 22-year-old daughter back home.

She was among the many Malaysians who used to commute to Singapore daily for work.

"I was worried for my daughter because it was not very safe for her to live alone in Johor (Baru). During the first two to three weeks, she would cry when I video-called her. But she also had to understand I had to work," said Ms Roslina.

After staying in a hotel in March, she rented a room in a Housing Board flat in Yishun in April.

Similarly, her colleague, Mr Irme Mohd Zakwan, also a Malaysian, has been renting a flat in Yishun with a few friends, after staying in a hotel for two to three months.

The 32-year-old environmental service associate, who normally lives with his parents in Johor Baru, said: "My mum told me to stay in Singapore and continue working. She told me not to worry about her because she could take care of herself."

Ms Roslina and Mr Irme are from KTPH's environmental services department, which is made up largely of foreign staff. The 100-plus employees are in charge of keeping the hospital clean and handling linen.

Their head of department, Madam Thangavalu Santha, 63, said almost all her Malaysian staff stayed in Singapore to work after their home country's lockdown.

"I am impressed that till today, they are still here, while their families are in Malaysia. They said they will return only after (the) Covid (situation) is settled here and in Malaysia."

Disinfecting the hospital has become more rigorous over the past seven months, with the staff having to don personal protective equipment (PPE) while working in high-risk areas.

 
 
 

Environmental service associate Indo Rani Marimuthu, 58, who works in the hospital's acute and emergency (A&E) care centre, said she had to increase her stamina to meet the faster pace of work.

"Work was tiring. After cleaning each bed, we had to wash our hands and put on a fresh set of PPE. The biohazard bins were full after every five minutes, and when they call for patient transfer, we have to quickly finish our work and be on standby."

When Covid-19 patients are transferred from the A&E to pandemic wards, Ms Indo has to follow the path and mop the floor to prevent the spread of infection.

"It was difficult to breathe with the N95 mask, and the tightness of the mask and goggles caused headaches. But I was focused on giving the best for the patients... good quality clean beds and toilets," she said.

Madam Santha's staff were also initially apprehensive about the risk of Covid-19 infection.

"I was most concerned about their safety. Even if they have to rush, I always stress that they must wear the PPE properly," said Madam Santha.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2020, with the headline 'Tireless effort behind the scenes'. Print Edition | Subscribe