Family speaks out as Manitoba reaches grim pandemic milestone of 103 deaths
Maples care home resident who died 3 days before her 100th birthday remembered as an elegant woman
As Manitoba reaches the grim milestone of surpassing 100 COVID-19 related deaths, one man wants others to know his mom, who died after getting sick with the disease, wasn't just a number.
"My mom was a strong religious woman, a good family lady. Family and friends were important to her," said Lawrence Lewsey standing outside the Maples Long Term Care Home where she died Monday.
Ethel Lewsey died just three days before her 100th birthday. "If it wasn't for COVID she'd be here today," said Lawrence.
He said after his mom tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 29, she was asymptomatic — like most of the other residents inside the home — but then her appetite shrunk and she had trouble breathing.
As of Saturday morning, Ethel was one of at least 12 residents from Maples Long Term Care Home who have died after contracting COVID-19.
The province announced seven new deaths related to COVID-19 on Saturday. It brings the total to 103 deaths in Manitoba since the pandemic began, marking the grim milestone.
'Thought Manitoba had a handle on it'
On Friday, Manitoba's Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said 176 people in Maples Long Term Care Home had tested positive, including 55 staff members and 121 residents.
"I really thought Manitoba had a handle on it but I was wrong," said Lawrence. "It got in here so what happened? How did it get in? Was it a staff? A visitor? It's hard to say."
Lawrence is frustrated with how Revera, the for-profit company that runs the home, has handled the outbreak and said he's phoned Manitoba's Health Minister's office.
After a string of COVID-19 deaths in several Revera facilities in other provinces, Lawrence said he expected better of the company here in Manitoba.
"Protection for these people is lacking. Somebody dropped the ball, somebody brought it."
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He wants to be clear his anger isn't with the employees who work at the home, whom he believed cared deeply for his mom.
The staff had prepared a virtual Zoom celebration for her 100th birthday and wanted to present a special card on her special day for her family to see, he said.
He believes the facility is severely short-staffed — a problem employees have previously complained about.
"You know it's frustrating. Part of me blames Maples and part of me blames the government," adds Lawrence's wife Cindy.
"The government should have stepped in, especially once the staff started getting sick. Now they have the Red Cross going in, that should have happened a long time ago."
Cindy and Lawrence watched Ethel together on FaceTime in her final hours.
"We spoke to her, and one of our daughters spoke to her, and it was tough to watch her lie there, she was on oxygen and it was tough to watch her lie there and knowing that she was literally hours away," said Cindy.
Choosing to protect his family's health and not being there in person to see his mom pass was difficult for Lawrence.
"I always made a promise to her. My father passed away alone. We were at home and he passed away alone in the hospital so my objective was to never let her die alone. Of course COVID had made that much [more] difficult."
He hopes by sharing his mother's story and his family's heartbreak, someone might take the pandemic more seriously and follow the fundamentals like physical distancing, hand washing and staying home when ill — which Roussin has been urging Manitobans to do for eight months.
"It's real. You know it's no hoax. I'll give you an example. I was walking around in a store shopping yesterday and here we have people walking around with their masks down to their chins. You know there's nobody enforcing and people are dying."
Revera, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, did not return a request from CBC by press deadline Friday, but has previously said it's working with the Red Cross and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to provide additional staffing resources at the home.
With files from Peggy Lam