The family of a personal support worker who died after contracting COVID-19 says she was concerned about a lack of protective equipment and felt pressure to return to work amid the pandemic.
Arlene Reid, a 51-year-old mother of five, is the second personal support worker and the third health care employee in Ontario to die as a result of COVID-19. She died on April 27, a week after testing positive for COVID-19, her family said. It is not known how she contracted the coronavirus that causes the disease.
Described by her family as hard working, loving and “sassy but very caring,” Ms. Reid worked three jobs – one in home care, one in long-term care and another in a retirement home – in the weeks leading up to her death, her daughters told The Globe and Mail. She lived in Brampton, west of Toronto, and worked part-time in home care for the Victorian Order of Nurses for nearly three years. Her family said she worked as a PSW for 20 years. Her recent jobs included Heritage House Retirement Home in Mississauga as well as a shift at Holland Christian Homes in Brampton, whose Grace Manor home is currently receiving military aid because of an outbreak.
“This could have been avoidable," said Sharleen Stewart, president of the Services Employees International Union Healthcare, which represents 25,000 workers, including Ms. Reid.
“She didn’t have the proper equipment. ... She contracted it from one of the jobs.”
Jo-Anne Poirier, president and chief executive officer at VON, said she does not believe Ms. Reid contracted the virus while working in multiple homes. Ms. Poirier, who said she was deeply saddened by the loss, said the organization provides gloves and surgical masks for PSWs, but acknowledged supplies are scarce.
“It has been in limited supply," Ms. Poirier told The Globe. "However, I want to make it clear that employees, if they have a soiled mask and they need more, they are simply to ask for more and we will make sure that they’re supplied with it.”
Ms. Reid, who was born in Jamaica, visited the country in March and completed a 14-day quarantine upon her return, her daughters said. At the time she was also working at Heritage House, but didn’t feel comfortable returning because of the lack of personal protective equipment, said her daughter, Antoniette Bryden.
“Her work was, like, on her case about getting back to work," she said. “[Ms. Reid] said they weren’t letting them wear protective equipment, so she was hesitant to go back into that environment.”
Another daughter, Adriana Townsend, said VON also asked her mother to provide a doctor’s note when she wasn’t feeling well, which upset Ms. Reid because the government was telling the public to stay home.
Lisa Forbes, general manager at Heritage House, told The Globe on Thursday she was not in a position to answer any questions about Ms. Reid. According to a letter sent from Ms. Forbes on April 13, Ms. Reid was deemed “resigned” because she did not respond to requests for information and did not report for duty for her scheduled shifts.
Ms. Reid’s daughters said she moved to Holland Christian Homes, whose Grace Manor currently has 50 residents and 24 staff with COVID-19. Holland CEO Ken Rawlins told The Globe that Ms. Reid only worked one shift, on April 11, and that she was assigned to a non-COVID unit. (Her family, however, said she was worked two shifts.)
He said Ms. Reid was screened for symptoms coming in and out of the home, including temperature checks, and was provided with a mask, gloves and a gown for her shift. (Her family disputes this.)
Mr. Rawlins said it would be surprising if Ms. Reid contracted the virus at Holland Homes, because she started experiencing symptoms the next day. “We said if you’re not feeling well, you should go get checked out," he said.
Jeff LeMoine, a spokesman for Peel Public Health, said Friday Ms. Reid’s case “was confirmed to be through community spread and did not occur in a workplace.”
Her initial symptoms included a mild fever and cough. Her conditioned worsened and she experienced shortness of breath, a high fever and vomiting, as well as loss of smell and taste.
Ms. Townsend said her mother came to stay with her because Ms. Bryden has cancer, and Ms. Reid didn’t want to put her at risk. Ms. Reid had four daughters, a son and three grandsons.
“My mom died at my house,” Ms. Townsend said. “She just wanted to get better.”
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