Whistleblower says workers at nursing homes aren't being given protective gear

Published March 31, 2020 10:02 p.m. ET
Updated March 31, 2020 10:06 p.m. ET

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TORONTO -- A personal support worker caring for those most at risk of dying of COVID-19 says she and her colleagues aren’t being given the proper protective equipment to prevent an outbreak.

The whistleblower, who CTV News is calling Julie, said the problem isn’t a lack of protective gear, such as face masks, but a growing concern among management that such equipment must be stockpiled in the event of a shortage.

“It’s there. They lock it up in the basement. They’re saying that they’re saving it,” Julie said. “I’m not allowed to put on a mask to help someone who has a cough.”

Outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the country have proven deadly. Canada’s first death from COVID-19 took place at a long-term care facility in B.C. In Bobcaygeon, Ont., 13 residents have died and more than half of the staff now have symptoms.

Julie fears that, without a face mask, she could be unknowingly spreading the virus from one resident to the next.

A closed Facebook page for personal support workers reinforces her concerns. Workers have described in a series of posts not having enough equipment to keep residents and themselves safe.

With outbreaks reported at long-term care homes across the country, Julie worries that the national crisis will only worsen.

“Canada is going to be the next Bobcaygeon. It’s only a matter of time,” Julie said.

“Look what happened in Spain. Elderly people found abandoned and dead. That’s what’s going to happen here because, one, people will be too afraid to go to work. Or two, people will be too sick to go to work and there will be no one left.”

Sharleen Stewart, president SEIU Healthcare, a union representing more than 60,000 healthcare workers, expressed concerns for those working in long-term care homes.

“They’re like firemen going into a fire without the equipment. They’re terrified,” Stewart said.

In Ontario, the directive has been to only provide personal protective equipment, or PPE, when a case has been confirmed.

“We do have to make sure we have an ongoing supply. When there is a sense of apprehension in that, we understand, but we have to be judicious in our use of it,” said Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams.

Julie said that, by speaking up, she hopes to raise awareness about what she says is happening on the frontlines of the crisis.

“Getting your grandparents ready for the day, bathing them, feeding them, they’re scared right now. That’s us that’s helping them, but no one listens to us. Nobody cares.”

As of Tuesday, 8,591 people have tested positive for the virus in Canada and 101 patients have died.


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