A second Ontario personal support worker (PSW) has died as a result of COVID-19, as the union she was a member of slams the province for “insufficiently” protecting PSWs amid the virus outbreak.
The Services Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU) says that Arlene Reid was a PSW at the Victorian Order of Nurses in Peel Region, an organization that delivers home and community care.
The SEIU says that Reid died this past weekend at the age of 51.
“Like many healthcare workers precariously employed, she was a dedicated PSW who served her community through multiple employers and facilities in the Peel Region,” SEIU President Sharleen Stewart said in news release issued Wednesday afternoon.
“Our union has spoken to the family to offer whatever support is needed as they grieve the sudden loss of precious life. She will be missed and remembered.”
The mother of five is being remembered by her family as a vibrant person with a big heart.
“Our mom, she was amazing, she really loved what she did,” Arlene’s daughter Antoniette Bryden said speaking to CTV News Toronto.
“She was our rock in everything that we did, in everything that we tried to do.”
Arlene’s other daughter, Antonnielle Bryden, says that her mother had just returned from vacation and quarantined for 14 days, in accordance with the guidelines laid out by the provincial and municipal governments.
“We said hey mom, let’s just do it extra, let’s do 16 (days),” Antonnielle said, adding that her mother felt fine before eventually returning to work.
However, Antonnielle said that her mother was told there was a patient she would be caring for who may have been treated for COVID-19 and that Arlene was uncomfortable with that given that one of her daughter’s is fighting cancer.
“She told them that she didn’t want to go and they had told her that it would be job insubordination.”
Antonnielle said her mother apprehensively returned to work, but stayed with her eldest daughter in Toronto to avoid putting the rest of her family at risk.
“That’s where everything went downhill.”
Reid's other daughter, Antoniette Bryden, told CP24 her mother had always been passionate about helping people.
“It was a long-time passion that stemmed from back home in Jamaica with helping her great grandparents during their time when they were sick,” she said.
“She was just an amazing, phenomenal woman. She goes above and beyond in everything she does, a dedicated hard worker.”
Antoniette said the government should implement measures that ensure front-line workers have enough personal protective equipment.
“I feel like with the lack (PPE) that two families are mourning the loss (of their loved ones). And it’s hard because you go through the burials and it’s not the same.
“You don’t get to see them. You don’t get to sit by. It’s just straight to the grave. And that’s a void that can never be filled for both families right now,” Antoniette said.
She said her mother and other health-care workers were providing care for the vulnerable members of the community and were viewed as heroes. But, they weren’t treated as such due to the equipment they were given.
“Get it together,” Antoniette said. “Get proper protective gear equipment for these long-term care workers.”
Reid’s death comes less than two weeks after Christine Mandegarian, another personal support worker for 31 years, died of the virus.
The union, which represents some 60,000 frontline health-care workers in Ontario, alleges that both deaths are a result of the health and safety protections, personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols and government directives that have left PSWs vulnerable to the threat of infection while working in homes, long-term care residences and hospitals.
“While requests for urgent discussions with Chief Medical Officer Williams have gone ignored, we will continue to demand greater protections for PSWs and all our healthcare heroes who work to keep the rest of us safe and secure.”
More than 2,100 health-care workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to a report released by the province on Wednesday,
In a statement released Wednesday evening, the Victorian Order of Nurses says that "at this time" they have not received official confirmation of Reid's cause of death.
-- with files from CP24's Bryann Aguilar