Healthcare workers are looking for temporary, alternative accommodations out of fear they may bring COVID-19 home with them after being exposed at work, putting their families and neighbours at risk.
“I live in a small two-bedroom apartment,” said Lina Smurthwaite, a health care aide. “I’ve got my two kids, my husband. There’s only one bathroom, so there is a chance I could be bringing this home.”
Smurthwaite is doing everything she can to keep her family safe, including isolating herself in one of the bedrooms. When she has to use the bathroom, she texts her husband first.
“He makes sure the hallways are empty,” Smurthwaite explained. “Then I go in there… and before I leave, I will bleach everything, make sure everything is cleaned up so I don’t pass it on and then I’m back locked in the room until I go to work.”
This has become part of Smurthwaite’s regular, every-day routine. She wakes up, goes to work, comes back home, washes up, then isolates herself. Then she repeats it the next day.
“I live to help others. I don’t want to be hurting others,” Smurthwaite explained.
“Right now I’m just honestly, just thinking about everybody else’s safety. I don’t want to be spreading this to anybody but I can’t afford to pay [an additional] regular rent elsewhere.”
The British Columbia Nurses’ Union said healthcare workers need assistance when it comes to keeping their families safe. This is the responsibility of health authorities and the provincial government, said Christine Sorensen, president of the union.
“We have been hearing from nurses that they would like accommodation provided for them,” she explained. “Many of these nurses are working more than 12 hours. They’re working 14, 16 hours, some of them without a break. They’re exhausted at the end of their shift and they don’t want to be worried about transmitting this to their families.”
In the meantime, the community is stepping up to fill that gap.
Accent Inns is offering reduced rates after receiving a call from an exhausted nurse at the Royal Jubilee Hospital on the verge of tears, desperately needing a place to stay.
“She shared with us that some nurses are sleeping in their cars because they’re nervous about taking the virus home to their family, they’re working long shifts and she was calling around to other hotels and so many of the hotels were closing,” said Trina Notman, vice president of communications at Accent Inns.
The reduced prices are less than half of their regular rate and Accent Inns has already seen more than 120 bookings since it was introduced on Monday.
“This is us having the back of essential service workers,” Notman said.
Reduced rates at Accent Inns isn’t the only help front line workers are receiving.
A single social media post from a Royal Jubilee nurse looking for low-cost housing has turned into a community effort to create a website that will do just that.
The post received an outpouring of support from the community, with many comments from owners offering accommodation and healthcare workers in similar situations.
Heather Conquergood saw the post and decided to help out and organize the requests and offers.
“[I thought] I can maybe connect these people who are offering their housing to other essential staff that are looking for places to eat, shower, sleep in between shifts,” she explained.
Working with the community, she created a website that allows healthcare workers to access a list of affordable accommodations at reduced rates.
“It’s meant to be a service where landlords can make a specific offer to healthcare workers for a reduced rent because any of these essential staff [members] have to double up their rent, and they have to double up their mortgage in order to have separate accommodation to keep their family safe,” Conquergood said.
As front line workers risk their own health every day, they’re looking for new ways to keep their families safe — even if it means finding a home away from home.