A personal support worker in the Peel Region has died of COVID-19, marking the second publicly known support worker who has died in Ontario since the pandemic began.
The worker was identified by a Services Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU Healthcare) spokesperson as 51-year-old Arlene Reid, who provided home care to the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) clients.
Peel Public Health said based on an assessment conducted there was no link to a workplace exposure identified in this case and that Reid contracted the virus through community transmission.
Antoniette Bryden, Reid’s daughter said the 51-year-old was a mother-of-five and had three grandchildren. Bryden said Reid was devoted to her family.
“She was vibrant, always smiling. She loved cooking,” she said, adding her mother was passionate about her work.
“She had such a deep love for what she did and her clients they felt that, they understood that, and they reciprocated back to her in how they treated her.
“I’m proud of my mom. She’s a frontline worker that was essential, but she was also an essential for us.”
Bryden said her mother began showing symptoms of the virus mid-April.
“She had the cough. She had a fever. She had the shortness of breath. She said she felt weak like her bones felt weak,” she said.
When Reid received the confirmed diagnosis, she went to live with her other daughter in Toronto out of fear of infecting Bryden, who is a recent cancer survivor.
“Within a week, we lost her,” she said.
“I’m thankful for what she did and the impact she had on her clients, but at the same time we are broken that she is no longer here anymore.”
SEIU Healthcare, the union that represents more than 60,000 healthcare and community service workers across the province, called on the province for more aid to help protect PSWs.
“The tragic death of our union sister is the second loss of a personal support worker (PSW) in as many weeks as a result of ongoing failures to protect health-care workers during COVID-19,” said SEIU Healthcare President Sharleen Stewart.
“Like many health-care workers precariously employed, she was a dedicated PSW who served her community through multiple employers and facilities in the Peel Region.”
From the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, Stewart said the health and safety measures, personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols and government directives have “insufficiently protected PSWs” in home care, long-term care and hospital settings.
Global News contacted the Ontario government to ask for comment on Stewart’s remarks, but didn’t hear back by the time of publication.
The concern voiced by the union comes just days after a Toronto man told Global News he was concerned about the lack of testing his personal support workers undergo.
Chris Stigas, who became paralyzed in a spinal cord accident five years ago, said his daily routine includes two visits for PSWs.
While the workers wear surgical masks, Stigas said he wished they would be tested regularly for COVID-19 as well.
The provincial government recently expanded testing to include workers at long-term care homes and hospitals. There was no timeframe set as to when all PSWs would be tested before interacting with at-home clients.
On April 16, the first publicly known death of a personal support worker in the province due to COVID-19 was confirmed. She was identified by her husband as Christine Mandegarian and she worked at Altamont Care Community, near Port Union Road and Highway 401 in Toronto.
“The tragic death of our union sister is a reminder of the very real dangers that frontline health care workers face in the selfless delivery of care for Ontario families,” Stewart said at the time.
“We have heard from her colleagues who described her as a gentle, caring, and dedicated personal support worker. She will be missed and remembered.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Ontario reported 15,728 coronavirus cases and 996 deaths.
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