Keeping us safe during pandemic

Posted on Sat, 08/01/2020 - 12:30pm

By Tracy Poyser

Since mid-March, when the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic became a scary reality, most of us have rarely left the protective cocoon of our apartments, with our balcony perches serving as our very own great outdoors. At 8 p.m. on Saturday nights through June, while the governor’s stay-at-home order was in place, many of us joined the citywide “Minutes of Togetherness.” We clapped, banged pots, yelled and waved flashlights to connect with each other and honor all the people on the front lines – health care professionals, cops, grocery workers, package delivery drivers and so many more.

This story focuses on our very own unsung heroes – our Malibu East management and staff members, who deserve applause and great respect for all the extra work and risks they’ve taken and continue to take to keep our community safe and running smoothly.

It’s logical to assume that the dangers presented by this health crisis required condo associations and building management companies to focus on prevention rather than mitigation, as confirmed by Sudler Property Management president Steven P. Levy’s March 16 letter to all Sudler clients, in which he outlined the need for an abundance of caution. Sudler’s detailed and frequently updated list of recommendations was adopted by all condo associations in Sudler’s care, with Malibu East’s Board of Directors and staff receiving day-to-day guidance from our Sudler representative, Dean Lerner. (See also The Sudler View newsletter on “COVID-19 Challenges Met” that was recently emailed to all residents.)

With property manager Violette Deschamps on vacation for two weeks in July, administrative assistant Shelby Cutler and a number of other staff members shared some of their personal experiences and challenges in response to my email survey. Here’s a view from behind the scenes from Shelby:

Personally, being new here, I never thought I would get a crash course in how to handle a pandemic! It sure had its challenges as it is new to all of us. Violette, the Board of Directors and Sudler have been very thorough and kept in daily touch about our ideas and what we put in place. Sudler conducted daily telephonic meetings the first few months of the pandemic, and since then we’ve continued to meet a few times a week, especially when there are new updates or findings.

At MECA, we started holding staff telephonic meetings at the beginning of the pandemic – night-shift employees and garage manager included – daily for several weeks, and since then at least once a week to get input and update the staff on changes affecting the building. We also email to the staff the email blasts sent to our residents to keep the staff well-informed. The telephonic staff meetings have been developed since as a standardized weekly procedure to improve the interaction with the staff, overall performance of the labor force, and general coordination.

Everyone has kept up a very good morale, and Violette and I get a lot of valuable and positive feedback from our residents and the Board. I am really proud to be part of the MECA team. And, as residents may have noticed, we have added additional staff members since the pandemic began to step up the sanitization of the building.”

Violette and I made the decision at the beginning of the pandemic to work on-site, not from home. To achieve that, we have been working behind locked doors while minimizing the transfer of paper into and from the office. All boxes and documents entering the office are sanitized before we touch them. We believe that we succeeded in conducting our ‘business as (somewhat) usual’ in highly unusual times. But, we definitely miss that personal interaction with our residents, Board and staff members,” Shelby concluded.

Shelby’s comments were echoed by maintenance people. Chief engineer Lou Colletti confirmed that personal protective equipment is a must. “When the job calls for it – like doing repairs inside a unit – we put on booties, gloves, overalls, masks and face shields. In maintenance, it’s hard to do social distancing when a job requires two workers, so we’re extra careful. We also noticed our residents have been great waiting in the lobby for an elevator when two people are in the elevator foyer. I’m really proud to be associated with employees who take good care in their work to protect our residents.”

One of our newest maintenance staffers is “Komi” Jacob Tetedje. Because he was hired at the beginning of the pandemic to help cope with the additional workload, his primary focus has been on wiping and disinfecting.

I’m OK with face masks and gloves,” he said. “I remember April 4 when I was cleaning the mall and two men passed by. One of them asked if I was here because of COVID-19, and I said, ‘Yes, because of your safety.’”

Komi is as careful as he can be with social distancing, but as Lou mentioned, it’s not always possible when working in a team.

Most of my experiences are good,” Komi said. “I’m happy the residents understand the importance of face masks at MECA. Because in some other places, residents don’t care; they make work difficult for management. I’m very proud of our management; you fought hard! God bless us all.”

Added another maintenance man, “I’ve been using much more bleach and disinfectant. And, I have to use extra protective equipment, but it’s very difficult because I sweat tremendously, so my eyes are constantly burning. Social distancing is very hard because I’m a very social person.”

Our front desk staff is our building’s first line of defense, with our doormen as first responders who need to be extra vigilant and careful, and the yellow “police tape” delineating an area with a six-foot distance from the desk. Michael Morrow speaks for all of the doormen when he describes his new reality:

During the pandemic, we at the front desk have been repetitively sanitizing the desk and phone and everything we touch while working, including the keys distributed to the residents when they’re returned. Periodically I wipe down the grocery and valet carts after they’ve been used when I notice a resident fails to do so.

I do have a face shield at my disposal, but mostly I use masks, which are more comfortable to wear during the entire shift. I also wear and sanitize my gloves to protect myself and others. Most residents, staff and contractors comply with social distancing without being asked, and those who come a little too close are gently reminded to step back.

I think the most important thing residents can do during this frustrating time is to wear a mask at all times in the common areas, especially in the elevators. It’s been proven that mask wearing, washing hands frequently, and practicing social distancing can help to reduce transmission of the virus. Lastly, I appreciate the consideration and positive attitudes shown by many of our residents as we all cooperate to stay safe until after the pandemic subsides.”

Last but not least is the increased workload on our hardworking Receiving Room clerks. What’s been a boon for Amazon and other online merchants, and a great convenience for residents, has stretched our Receiving Room space and regular labor force to the limit.

We are getting twice as many packages than we ever got, and the sizes are much bigger also,” said one of the clerks. “Plus, we have to sanitize packages before we can work them into the system. So, we have residents calling, asking for their package, and we don’t mind checking, but too often we didn’t have the time to get them in the system, as it takes awhile to get them there. We hope that our residents continue to have patience with us – we are doing the best we can.”

As additional work for the first few months, and for the safety of the clerks, the packages had to be arranged on shopping carts outside the Receiving Room door for residents to pick up. And, it’s still necessary for residents to call first to schedule their pickup because the Receiving Room door has to stay closed – a small inconvenience to residents.

On a normal day, our dock is also much busier,” the clerk said. “So, we’ll frequently run out of parking for deliveries, contractors and the like. It’s very helpful if people understand the overload of the dock (more deliveries and more renovations in the building) and don’t get angry at us, because we have no extra places to park, with only a limited number of spaces for loading and unloading.”

On a separate note, management is thankful for the approval of the Board to hire relief employees to help the Receiving Room clerks and the building staff. The most recent addition is Adolphus Jenkins.

We succeeded in getting a brief comment from our property manager, Violette Deschamps, for this article just before going to press:

I have been impressed with the dedication of the building, receiving, front desk, garage and security staff members from the beginning of our 2020 health and social challenges. I believe that, together, we achieved an outstanding job at optimizing the safety of our residents, vendors and guests. I have been touched and delighted, countless times, with the positive comments, ideas, suggestions, solutions and information brought to my attention by the staff members, not to mention the sheer will of the staff that I could almost touch.

Let me close by saying that with no exception, all staff members came to work on schedule, from the beginning of the 2020 life-changing challenges, fighting their own fear, and family transportation challenges. That alone is an achievement that I applaud.”

I hope I speak for all residents in expressing my admiration and appreciation for our staff’s resilience under extremely stressful circumstances that have put them at personal risk. They are front-line workers. Fortunately, all of them have stayed safe and well up to now, and the best thing we can do to keep it that way is to obey the rules and requests that the Association’s Board has set forth during the pandemic. Remember, we’re so much safer because of our staff’s diligence and care and the Board’s attention and involvement in the matter. Most importantly, keep wearing those masks in our common areas.

Whenever you can, do smile and give our employees that extra thanks. Even though the mask hides your mouth, when you smile, your eyes crinkle and your forehead loses its pandemic-induced frown!