From receptionist to covid officer

Róisín Cullen

Stay indoors. Completely avoid contact with other people. Use a separate toilet to people in your household.

This is the official HSE advice for those in self-isolation. An inconvenience for most is a luxury for those living in direct provision or in emergency accommodation. Before the global health crisis, there were 5,686 people in direct provision centres around the country. A further 1,585 people were living in emergency accommodation. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer acknowledged it is not possible to keep a physical distance while sharing living quarters with non-family members.

Off-site self-isolation facilities for asylum seekers were arranged in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Dundalk. “We have partnered with the HSE and non-profit organisations to ensure that residents in our centres who require self-isolation can be cared for in these facilities which will have health and social care personnel on site”, announced Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan TD.

A HSE and Safetynet partnership led to the establishment of a national clinical telephone service. It provides public health advice to asylum seekers and to those working in direct provision centres. Those suspected of having the virus or confirmed to have the virus are moved from direct provision centres to a “dedicated offsite self-isolation facility”.

The HSE explained in a press conference that, “supports are available for the duration of their period of quarantine until such time as the HSE considers that they can return to centre with no risk to other residents or staff.”

A receptionist in a Dublin budget hotel shared his experience of working in a self-isolation facility. The receptionist, who would prefer to remain anonymous explained the realities of his role as a front line worker. His workplace is used by the Department of Justice to allow asylum seekers to self-isolate safely and effectively. The Peter McVerry charity works directly with residents to help them during their stay. “They explain the rules when they arrive and get their details. They also work with them if they have medical issues… also arranging with us any special dietary requirements.”

Nurses and doctors carry out medical checks on residents and monitor symptoms.  All rooms are private with their own toilet facilities.  Toiletries and sanitary products are provided. “We have families here from time to time who have separate rooms so they aren’t cramped. They don’t have to share bathrooms with non-family members.”

The hotel worker has recently been appointed as Covid-19 officer, meaning he is responsible for rigorous checks throughout the day. “I have to make sure areas are being cleaned, that we are adhering to the two metre rule and that people are not gathering in groups.” All residents must wear masks when outside of their room, while staff members are provided with PPE gear. Hand sanitising stations are scattered throughout the hotel. Clear signage is displayed explaining how to reduce the spread of the virus, with Perspex screens installed in front of the reception desk.  Even staff meetings have been adapted to fit the “new normal”. “We try to keep close contact to a minimum and have meetings in the restaurant or outside in the car park if we need to.”

Staff members deliver 50-80 meals to residents’ doors on any given day. A knock on the door signals the arrival of breakfast: ranging from a full Irish to sausage rolls. Lunch follows: sandwiches with the choice of soup or salad. Lasagne, curry or burgers with a side of fries are the set evening meals. Residents with dietary requirements are catered for. Vegetarian and Halal options are also available. A makeshift food store provides fruit, bread and drinks during the day. Some rooms could “do with a good deep clean.”

After the isolation period of fourteen days, alternative accommodation is arranged in a direct provision centre. This process can often take some time.

Róisín Cullen

Image Credit: Antonello Serino