Hospitality industry opens rooms to healthcare workers for free

Public healthcare workers can now access private accommodation close to their workplace at no cost, thanks to an initiative called Ubuntu Beds.

As the South African healthcare system prepares for the peak of COVID-19, healthcare workers continue to run the risk of infecting their families and others while travelling to and from work. Since the virus hit hundreds of health workers have become infected, with nurses alone accounting for the majority of cases. A lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), over-exposure due to shortage of staff and long commutes in public transport are all said to have contributed to its spread.

In March after contracting the coronavirus herself, hotel owner Kim Whitaker launched Ubuntu Beds to unite hospitality businesses that now stand empty with healthcare workers. Ubuntu Beds, with the support of the FirstRand SPIRE fund, hopes to raise enough funding through private donations and corporate sponsorship to accommodate up to 2500 public healthcare workers.

To date 10 820 bed nights have been booked, with just over 1079 establishments with approximately 17 500 rooms situated across the country, close to hospitals and clinics, have signed up to the platform. The average stay is between 7 and 14 days and is open to both the private and public healthcare sector. Healthcare workers have access to self-catering facilities, and in some instances Wi-Fi, TV, and laundry services.

Ubuntu Beds founder Kim Whitaker says: “The spirit of Ubuntu has been particularly prevalent amongst South Africans during this time. Ubuntu Beds has given us a way to show our gratitude to the healthcare heroes while supporting local tourism businesses. By offering accommodation it means they can keep their doors open and most importantly retain their staff. Since launching, just over 870 healthcare workers have signed up and we’ve been able to place over 670 doctors and nurses nationwide. The peak is coming and we are doing everything we can to help the healthcare sector prepare. Our goal is to raise R16 million to ensure our healthcare workers are taken care of.”

Cleanliness is of utmost importance and all accommodation providers need to adhere to a cleaning guideline developed by Ubuntu Beds, based on the guidelines set out by the Department of Health for self-isolation and self-quarantine accommodation. Specialist cleaning companies do a deep clean post stay, which includes a COVID-19 fog, to ensure no cross-contamination occurs. Healthcare workers are aware of the risks, and scrub-off and scrub-on between the hospital and the accommodation.

As a key supporting partner to Ubuntu Beds, Jessica Spira, Sector Head for Healthcare and Hospitality at Rand Merchant Bank, which contributed to the SPIRE fund says: “We believe that by collaborating with Ubuntu Beds is a four-way win: health workers can be accommodated closer to their workplaces, health workers’ families are protected from being exposed, beds are filled, and job retention is improved in the hospitality and related services sectors.”

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