‘These are not machines’: Health worker deaths underscore COVID-19 strain

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TORONTO – Months after the start of the pandemic, a registered nurse at a Toronto-area long-term care facility told her son they were “overworked and understaffed” at his job and that she believed changes were necessary.
He recorded the conversation, but it’s hard to listen to his voice now – his mother, Maureen Ambersley, 57, died this week after contracting COVID-19.

In Canada, around 30 healthcare workers have died since the start of the pandemic.

Ambersley, who worked at a care facility owned by Extendicare, told his son, Floyd, in May that working conditions were tough.

COVID-19 had changed the nature of her work “in a way that impacts the entire workforce,” she said in an audio recording provided to CTV News.

“The atmosphere for the workforce is more tense and everyone is very, very alert.”

At the care home, they didn’t always have PPE, she revealed, adding that on other days they “had a set of PPE for the whole day.”

During the conversation, she described situations where staff members would “run” to provide care to a resident when another bell rang with another resident calling for help.

“If we had the right staffing, then one of them is [resident] and the bell rings, the support worker who was free could go and help that other resident, ”she said.

Ambersley continued to work at the nursing home after May, although conditions did not improve much, according to his son, Floyd Ambersley.

“They still didn’t have enough staff,” he told CTV News, adding that everyone had to work overtime to try to keep residents safe and healthy.

But work was important to her mother.

“My mom really loved helping people,” he told CTV News. “And the reason she even got into the field was to help people and so that’s what really mattered [and why she] continued to enter.

Although her willingness to help others kept her in her job, she was still terrified of catching COVID-19 – a fear that tragically came true.

“She was very scared,” Floyd said. “Every time she gets sick, she gets really seriously ill.”

Ambersley also didn’t want to pass it on to family members she was living with, he said.

“She loves her grandchildren, so she didn’t want them to catch her.”

It’s difficult, he admitted, to listen to the recording of her again describing her working conditions in May.

“Even doing these interviews is difficult,” he says. “Especially hear his voice. It’s a little overwhelming because I hear [her] voice and I hear how she wants it all, but […] I must also remember the reality, that it is not there.

Despite the pain of talking about his mother, he raises his voice because he wants others to be aware of what she and other frontline workers have been through and are still going through.

“Knowing that there is not much help and that you are forcing [them] doing crazy overtime, ”he says. “It’s really unfair.”

Just three days ago, the first-ever death of an Alberta healthcare worker was announced: Joe Corral, 61, who worked as a nursing aide in a long-term care facility.

Since then, two other health care workers in the province have died from the virus. The death of another health worker in his 50s who has not been identified was announced a day later.

The latest is a Calgary doctor in his 60s whose infection originated in the community and not the workplace, officials said. He was one of 25 deaths reported to Alberta Health on Wednesday.

The four healthcare workers who died from COVID-19 in Alberta join a growing list of healthcare workers across Canada who have been killed by the virus, many of whom are women and people of color in positions of power. low income first line.

During the pandemic, many people are commuting to work from home, but frontline workers and healthcare workers must actively put themselves at risk just to do their jobs, Ambersley’s son stressed.

“When it comes to medical care, it’s difficult because they understand they have to help, but they’re also people,” said Floyd. “They are not like machines that help people. These are people who help people, they can get sick. ”

He believes governments need to listen to the demands of frontline medical workers and try to give them as much more personnel and PPE help as they need.

He said sometimes his mother would be so pressed for time due to staff shortages that she would have to go straight from transferring from one patient to another and would not have time to completely change her PPE to avoid the cross contamination.

“You have to rush and sometimes you can leave his gloves on, maybe it’s like the same mask,” he says.

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, noted that when healthcare workers are at risk, everyone is.

“If the nurse, the doctor, the personal care worker are not safe in an infectious environment, the patients are not safe either,” she told CTV News. “Our families are not safe, our communities are not safe, as we leave our health facilities at the end of our shift.

“To keep our communities safe, you need to make sure healthcare workers are safe, and the only way to do that is through workplace health and safety measures.”

Whether infected at work or in the community, Canada risks losing more frontline workers – a terrifying prospect for those who remain.

“Some of them are also considering taking early retirement, which is scary if they do, because we need it more inside the system than outside the system,” CTV told CTV. News Paul-Emile Clouter, President and CEO of HealthCareCAN. “There is a feeling of hopelessness, a feeling of wanting to do good, but they fear that they will be exhausted and tired and that they can make mistakes.”

Silas pointed out that there are probably more frontline worker deaths that we just don’t know about.

“When I hear Maureen’s story, I get really mad,” she says. “Because it’s so well known that to prevent infection you need to protect your healthcare workers. What happened in the long-term care sector is unforgivable.

As for Floyd Ambersley, he said he does not feel anger, but sadness because there is no one he can blame for his mother’s death.

“She got sick. And she succeeded, ”he said. “I’m just sad she didn’t do it. ”

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