3 Fil-Canadian health workers die
3 Fil-Canadian health workers die
By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter
Healthcare workers caring for some of Canada’s most vulnerable populations are paying the ultimate price.
Warlito Valdez, 47, cared for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities as a residential support worker at Richmond Society for Community Living in Richmond, BC. On April 5, he died at home after testing positive for COVID-19. He worked two to three jobs to support his wife Flozier Tabangin and four-year-old daughter, Charlotte.
Marie Christine Mandegarian, 54, was from Iloilo and cared for residents for 31 years at Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, Toronto. She died at Scarborough General Hospital on April 15 from COVID-19 related complications. She leaves behind her husband Paul (Parviz) Mandegarian and children Janelyne and Paul.
Victoria “Vicky” Salvan, 64, was a few months away from retiring from her job as a patient attendant at Grace Dart Extended Care Centre in Montreal, Quebec, where she often worked two shifts a day for more than 25 years. She died at home on April 19. She had a husband and two adult sons.
Valdez, Mandegarian and Salvan are just some of the many Filipino-Canadian health workers who put their lives at risk each day as they go into work to care for the sick and the elderly.
During his daily press briefing on April 15, Premier Doug Ford said that the government is launching a plan to fight COVID-19 in long-term care homes. “We will fortify the iron ring of protection around our long-term care residents and those who care for them,” he said. “We’ll go further in our testing, screening, surveillance, targeting the homes facing outbreaks.”
Last year, Ford’s proposed cuts to funding drew outcry from workers at Ontario’s long-term care homes that were already struggling with staffing shortages.
And the facilities where Mandegarian and Salvan worked are two of the hardest hit.
According to CTV News reports, 56 people tested positive for the virus and 24 have died at Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, while 65 people have tested positive in Grace Dart Extended Care Centre in Montreal.
A Community Plunged into Grief
Mandegarian’s cousin, Michelle Corpuz Enero, said that the family is still in shock.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” she said over the phone. “My niece [Mandegarian’s daughter Janelyne] brought her in to the hospital on Monday and she passed away on Wednesday. That’s how fast it took her.”
She added that grieving is even harder since they can’t console each other in person. “Everything is done virtually,” said Enero.
Mandegarian had a pre-existing kidney-related health condition but whether Altamont Care Community was aware of it is unclear. The facility released a statement describing Mandegarian as a “much-loved and valued team member” who will be “sadly missed by all of her colleagues and by all the residents she cared for.”
The Philippine Consulate General of Toronto has also reached out to the family and released a statement that stated, “We salute kababayans like Ms. Mandegarian who are among the brave frontliners in the fight against the perilous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Christie Totten worked with Valdez as his supervisor and has set up a GoFundMe page for his wife and daughter. The page describes Valdez as a “tireless provider” for his family and states that “it would be comforting to those that knew Warlito to know that his wife and daughter are being looked after and cared for by her community.”
“I’ve spoken with Flozier and she has been overwhelmed by this entire experience,” said Totten in an e-mail.
A friend and colleague of Salvan, who asked not to be named, said that she was like a mother to colleagues who lovingly cared for the residents.
“She treated them like family,” she said. “Even bedridden residents, she used to care for them herself without asking for help.”
She added that when Salvan wasn’t spending time with her sons, she often worked double shifts totaling 72 hours a week. “I asked her why she was working so much,” she said. “She told me that she liked working overtime so she could get the full pension.”
Fearing for their Safety
Miranda R. Ferrier, national president for the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association (OPSWA), said that self-regulation among PSW workers is essential.
“The OPSWA is recommending full self-regulation of the PSW,” she stated in an email. “This would give stability to a workforce that has worked short-staffed for a decade, always screaming for support and better wages.”
In addition to regular inspections, Ferrier said that PSWs can “contribute to this monitoring if their collective voice was heard in the Ministry of Health.”
The Philippine Reporter has reached out to the Ministry of Health by email but has yet to receive a response.
Salvan’s friend said that she’s scared to go to work every day. In the beginning of April, she witnessed a head nurse ordering staff to remove their masks without giving them an explanation. On April 8, staff received two surgical masks per shift; by April 9, that was down to one. It wasn’t until April 12 that staff were given surgical masks, face shields and gowns.
Salvan started exhibiting symptoms around April 10 and died nine days later. Until now, workers haven’t received N95 masks and, currently, nearly 18 staff members at Grace Dart Extended Care Centre have tested positive for COVID-19.
In her last Facebook post on March 19, Mandegarian posted a photo of herself with the words “I can’t stay home, I’m a health worker!” The post drew messages from friends and colleagues urging her to stay safe.
Mandegarian’s daughter Janelyne also works in healthcare as a nurse. Together with her family, they’ve turned their grief into action by launching a GoFundMe to raise funds for PPEs. They’ll be donating masks, gloves and gowns to healthcare workers in the facility where Mandegarian worked, as well as other long-term care homes in need.
“You don’t know how much it hurts to lose someone to this till it happens to you. Being on the other side is eye-opening and painful. I don’t wish this on anyone,” wrote Janelyne on the GoFundMe page. “I don’t want my mom’s death to be in vain. We don’t want another family to go through this.”