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FLINT, MI — Baru Belin is the Executive Vice President of Great Lakes Facility Management, a commercial cleaning company based out of Flint, Michigan that handles facilities for Fortune 500 companies, Government establishments, and privately owned office buildings. As cleanliness and sanitization are on everyone’s minds now more than ever, Belin’s staff are on the front lines to do what they can to keep people safe.
“Before all of this happened, what we generally do is do the basic cleaning of the offices, public areas, restrooms and so forth,” says Belin. “What got disinfected on a daily basis were just restrooms and kitchens. When you go into an individual office it’s usually vacuum, dust, and take out the trash type of deal. We were actually sanitizing on a monthly basis. When all of this happened we had to direct our crews differently even though our contracts are written that way. Now we’re doing a disinfecting of these buildings daily.”
As the spread of COVID-19 continued, businesses began taking more precautions to keep their buildings safe. Great Lakes Facility Management, although not having the time to renegotiate contracts and manpower, made a swift move to ensure the safety of others with their new protocol.
“Everything has to be disinfected. Doorknobs, light switches, all touchable items,” says Belin. “Then we needed to also ensure that we were using a chemical that fought this coronavirus deal. We have a ton of disinfectants, but you have to make sure you’re using a disinfectant that could actually prevent the spread of this virus.”
While servicing office buildings and Fortune 500 companies, their janitorial staff have also been working in hospitals and are in dire need of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
“That’s the biggest challenge for us right now. The PPE? There’s a shortage,” says Belin. “Everything is getting directed to the hospitals, rightfully so, but at the same time, we’re on the front lines. We’re the ones cleaning the hospitals. Our industry is being treated like the general public on the limitations. Perfect example: we’re running short on latex gloves. Before this happened we would buy latex gloves by the cases, but now our suppliers are saying, ‘No, you can only buy a box at a time.’ I have 38 employees, so one box of gloves isn’t going to get me what I need.”
To keep his workers and those who populate the buildings they service safe in the meantime, Belin offers some advice.
“We need everybody kicking in together as the public and as the contractors doing what we can to keep our places sanitized. It’s a team effort. Without a team effort, if you just get your place sanitized by the janitorial staff at night and you come in during the day and go through your normal business, you’re contaminating that place. The whole time of operation it’s contaminated until that night.”
As supplies begin to dwindle and more employees are working directly in potentially contaminated areas, Belin has been feeling the gravity of the situation.
“Every morning I wake up, I go directly to my email and I’m nervous,” says Belin. “I have employees that have just quit. It’s like, ‘Hey Baru, we’re just not gonna do this anymore.’ And I get it. I have people who are nervous about taking it home to their families. I’m nervous about my employees every single day. They’re out there on that front line putting their lives on the line. Don’t get me wrong, we did increase our employees’ pay during this, but money isn’t everything when you’re nervous as hell working eight hours a day. It’s just a lot.”
Amidst the uncertainty, last week Great Lakes Facility Management donated cases of PPE to Hurley Hospital including jumpsuits and other supplies they had in storage and didn’t need for their daily services. In addition to looking out for medical professionals, Belin wants people to keep people in his industry in their thoughts.
“Hats off to not only my employees but to all janitors and housekeepers. They are right there on the front line and they’re scared to death. These people don’t make the most money. They’re not nurses or doctors, they’re janitors. They’re risking their lives and don’t reap the rewards of a big salary and benefits and all that. If everybody abides by the rules it will make everybody’s situation safer.”