Fourth health-care worker dies of COVID-19 in Ontario, union calls for better protection
TORONTO -- An Ontario union is asking for better protection for front-line health-care workers as a third personal support worker dies of COVID-19 in the province in less than three weeks.
The Services Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU) identified the woman who died as 59-year-old Sharon Roberts who at Downsview Long Term Care in North York for 24 years.
The union said that Roberts had tested positive for the virus on April 27 and died on Friday.
The long-term care home reported Saturday that 56 residents and 46 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The home also reported that three more residents have died at the home, bringing the total number of deaths to 14.
SEIU Healthcare said it is reaching out to Roberts' next of kin to offer whatever support is needed at this difficult time.
“Our union is mourning the loss of this beautiful soul,” Sharleen Stewart, the union’s president said in a news release Saturday. “We offer our most sincere condolences to her extended family and her union sisters and brothers who remember her fondly.”
Theresa Fatoba, who worked alongside Roberts at the home, said the personal support worker treated the elderly residents at the home like her own family and her death has left everyone broken-hearted.
“She's very hardworking, she likes to come to work early, she's agile, she’s punctual, she's dedicated,” Fatoba said Saturday evening. “It’s painful to lose people like that. I was so sorrowful when I heard this morning and I was disoriented because we miss a very important PSW in our home.”
Worker Julietta Delice remembered Roberts as a beautiful, wonderful, and loving person who loved to share everything she had.
“She treated these residents like family,” Delice said. “She was amazing to them.”
The union, which represents more than 60,000 health-care and community service workers across Ontario, called the death “senseless” and said it demonstrates ongoing negligence and failures in the long-term care system.
“What we’re hearing is a cold, scripted, and coordinated response from long-term care operators: that they’re simply following all guidelines set by the Ontario government,” Stewart said in her statement.
“In contrast, we’re hearing a loud chorus of cries from health-care workers asking for masks being withheld due to rationing.”
Stewart said the union has been calling for better protection for frontline workers since the start of the pandemic.
“The provincial government and their executive partners running long-term care corporations refuse to listen to the concerns from our heroes on the frontline of this crisis, especially about the lack of PPE,” she said.
In a statement, GEM Health Care Group, the operators of the North York facility, said preventative measures have been in place as early as March 14. The facility said all staff caring for a resident who have tested positive for COVID-19 are wearing full PPE.
"We are deeply saddened to confirm that last night we lost a valued team member from Downsview Long Term Care Centre. This news is heartbreaking and we offer our most heartfelt condolences and support to their family and friends during this incredibly difficult time," the facility said in a statement.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams commented on the death Saturday afternoon at a news conference, saying that the case is under investigation with Toronto Public Health.
“We would need to be informed by the full investigation to understand all the factors that might have been involved,” Williams told reporters about the case.
He said Ontario health officials are trying to assess long-term care homes as quickly as possible in terms of testing, access to personal protective equipment and infection, prevention and control practices.
More than 2,540 health-care workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to a report released by the province on Saturday.