Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Health Care for Domestic Staff

Our cook Helene (not her real name) showed me an inflamed lump on her upper left chest one morning. Her last mammography a year ago gave negative results. After finding a good breast clinic offering a cheaper rate within the vicinity, we immediately began the laboratory tests required. Within two weeks time and without unnecessary delay, Helene underwent mastectomy to remove the malignant tumor found in her left breast.
Helene is in her mid fifties, a very good and dependable worker.  She is a single parent who raised her child and gave her a good education by working overseas as domestic helper. She came back recently and was hired in my client's household. Before the Christmas holidays, she shared with me her plans of spending her first paid vacation leave after 1-year of service in my client's household.  She excitedly told me of her plans to fly to Bangkok with her daughter who just graduated from nursing school, recently passed the board and got employed. All these plans had to be cancelled because of the prognosis.

It is the employer's responsibility to provide health coverage for every staff who has completed 6-1 year of service.  Below is a sample of a good health coverage for a household:

Budget Guideline for Health coverage for domestic staff
1.  Screening upon entry                    Chest Xray plus Hepa Profile (for food handlers)
2.  Tests after 1 year employ              Chest Xray, Lipid Profile, Urinalysis, Fecalysis, CBC
                                                           Physical  Check Up by a medical doctor
                                                           Additional:  Mammography (2500) for over 50 years old
3.  Dental check up                            Prophylaxis, dental filling, extraction
4.  Eye check up                                Pair of eyeglasses if needed
5.  Emergency cases                          Work related injuries needing medical attention, illnesses arising while 
                                                          in employ including hospitalization

Apart from the yearly medical examinations, we must also consider the following things:
1.  Provide suitable accomodations - staff quarters must have cross ventillation for good indoor air quality because this prevents virus spreading to everyone. Enough toilet facilities for the size of the household staff especially because the morning household activities are most hectic and we want them observing the proper hygiene before they start work. Provide each staff her own cabinet for personal effects, this helps prevent contamination and keep entire room from mess. 
2.  Provide enough hours of rest and sleep - a good 6-7 hours of sleep at night and an hour of rest in the afternoon will keep their resistance strong. Should work extend beyond the normal hours, we should be considerate enough to provide more hours of rest during the day when work is less hectic for them to recover. It is good to remind them to rest when you know they are overworked on the previous day. Twice a month days off are normal practice in many household but make sure that Sunday work is lighter than the normal weekday- no laundry work and lighter cleaning tasks so that more hands are available to help in the kitchen and dining service. I know many households that take Sunday meals out so staff can have more rest and even have time for their religous observances.
3. Proper work implements and safe work environment-  work should be enjoyable and never be punishing. Let us make sure we provide the right tools to make work easy and efficient. Make it a point to check periodically the tools and equipment we use in the household. 
4.  Regular Training and orientation for health, safety and hygiene - orientation for new hires and semi annual training for entire household will keep everyone on their toes and alert.

Helene's medical expenses for the initial tests, the operation and possible treatment will be shouldered by the employer. Apart from that, she was offered to continue to stay in the house should she chose to, during her convalescence and eventual recovery hopefully. In the same household, we have a trusted driver who, after figuring in a car accident, was prescribed not to drive until given doctor's clearance; he also stayed with us and given another set of tasks in the meantime and proved to be a good male nanny for the growing boys. Below are possible tasks which helpers can do while convalescing:
1.  Kitchen tasks- Help chop vegetables in the kitchen; prepare snacks; set the table, plan the menu if she is knowledgeable: in Helene;s case she will be able to do this; prepare the grocery list.
2.  Nanny tasks- bring to and fetch kids from school, accompany kids in their extra curricular activities.
3.  Laundry tasks - folding clothes and linen
4.  Others - take phone calls, contact service providers and follow up household repairs, accompany workers / contractors while repairs are ongoing.

These tasks may be light but they also take a lot of our time and it would be a great relief when we have somebody to take care of these things. It helps a lot that the staff feel they are able to help around.

The domesic staff take care of our families - they prepare our food, set the table, clean our rooms, wash our clothes and linen - their health is of prime importance to us not only in order that they may be able to render the service we pay for but more importantly because our household health is in their hands. We eat the food they prepare,  what we wear passed through their hands and we breathe the same air, thus we easily catch the virus they spread. 

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure so they say. Let us then make sure we provide them the proper health care, enough hours of rest and sleep, proper accomodations and safe work environment for a happy, healthy household.

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