PSW death sheds light on risk facing health-care workers, home care patients
TORONTO -- The death of an Ontario health-care provider who not only worked in senior care facilities, but also went home to home looking after people in their own residences, is highlighting the risks facing home care patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around a million Canadians receive home care, with many seeing multiple personal support workers on any given day. That fact alone is a source of concern during a pandemic, but many workers who provide home care are also lacking personal protective equipment (PPE).
Arlene Reid, 51, was working in two care facilities while also providing home care to patients. She died Monday due to complications from COVID-19.
"My mom couldn't breathe in the end,” her daughter told CTV News, saying her mother didn't have the proper PPE to do her job safely.
Reid, a mother of five, had at one point requested not to work with a patient who had been treated for COVID-19, concerned that she might endanger a family member of hers who was battling cancer.
“They told her that it would be job insubordination,” her daughter Antonnielle Bryden said on Wednesday.
Personal support worker (PSW) Lindsay Couture, who also provides care for seniors in their own homes, says her job consists of helping elderly clients with personal hygiene, as well as more critical tasks related to their health.
“We're doing insulin injections,” Couture. “We're doing tube feeds, we're doing catheterizations.”
Like those who work in long-term care facilities, Couture is worried about the lack of protective equipment.
“We don't really have the proper PPE to go into these homes,” she said. “It's starting to get scary.”
Four health-care workers, including three PSWs and a hospital sanitation worker, have died from COVID-19 in Ontario so far, and more than 2,500 health-care workers have been diagnosed with the virus.
The Services Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU) has called for better protection for Ontario personal support workers and front-line health care workers.
It's not just caregivers who are scared, but the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who normally rely on receiving care in their homes.
“A little more than half our clients have cancelled services or suspended services,” said Ryan Jershey, who owns a private home care agency in Windsor, Ontario.
He said the drop in clients is due to those in high-risk groups being afraid of getting the novel coronavirus from health workers.
But some home care clients, like Diane Sims, who has multiple sclerosis, have no choice but to take the risk.
"There's no way I can cancel services,” she told CTV News. “My life depends on these workers."
Until recently, she said that many PSWs came to her home without proper PPE — exponentially frightening considering she has to see up to five different support workers every day.
Ontario's rule limiting PSWs to one care home doesn't apply to home care, meaning that a single worker could be visiting various clients in different homes.
“I question whether they should be going hither and yon, or whether they should have a set number of clients,” Sims said.
But for Sims and others like her with critical needs, there is no other option.
It's what keeps Couture on the job despite the risks to her own health.
“These clients need us,” she said.
A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Health told CTV News it is recommending that employers limit the number of private homes where PSWs can work, to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19, but at this point, there is no requirement for employers to follow this guideline.