Union contests workplace safety board's 'inadequate' conclusion on patient attendant's death

The union representing a patient attendant who died of COVID-19 last month is challenging a report by the province's workplace health and safety board that says enough was done to protect Thong Nguyen and his colleagues on the job.

CNESST determined enough was done to keep the 48-year-old patient attendant safe from COVID-19

Thong Nguyen worked at the Jean-Talon Hospital for 17 years before contracting the coronavirus and dying on June 11 at the age of 48, leaving behind a wife and two children. (Submitted by Dr. Lin Nguyen)

After 48-year-old patient attendant Thong Nguyen died of COVID-19 he contracted while working at Jean-Talon Hospital, his union says more could have been done to protect him and his colleagues.

The union is challenging a report by the province's workplace health and safety board (CNESST) that determined the hospital took all necessary measures.

Nguyen worked at the hospital for 17 years before contracting the coronavirus and dying on June 11, leaving behind a wife and two children.

The four-page CNESST report says Nguyen was assigned to cold, warm and hot COVID zones at the hospital.

In her report, CNESST inspector Carole Grenon says she was informed by hospital workers that "most of the measures to prevent the spread of the virus have been put in place." 

She concluded there was nothing to improve at the hospital.

A few weeks ago, a vigil was held for Thong Nyuyen in Turin Park, just across the street from Jean-Talon Hospital. (CBC)

The head of the federation of health and social services for CSN, Jeff Begley, disagrees.

He said the guidelines outlined in the CNESST report are flawed and need to be updated.

He says the workplace health and safety board should be doing more to protect health-care workers.

"Everybody can see that they were greatly absent during this whole period, so that's why this evaluation is inadequate and it has to be contested," Begley said.

The CNESST did not respond to an interview request Friday.

Health-care workers need reassurance, says cousin

The deceased man's cousin, Dr. Lin Nguyen, said she is upset by a report that did not dig deep enough.

Failing to fully investigate and find ways to improve workplace safety could turn people away from the health-care field during a time when the provincial government is struggling to recruit new staff, she said.

"If you want more support to reinforce the healthcare system, you need to provide certain reassurance that, if anything happens to one of our angels, that the system will take care of it fully," she said.

She would have liked to see the investigation show that health authorities do care and that they want to make things safer. 

Séléna Champagne, a spokesperson for the regional health authority, the CIUSSS Nord-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, said the agency is "deeply saddened" by the employee's death.

"We collaborated in good faith in the investigation process and provided as much information as possible that enabled the CNESST inspector to reconstruct the chronology of events," she said in an email, declining a request for an interview.

"At the end of its investigation, no correction notice was issued following the employer's care."

Colleague thought Nguyen would recover

The death of Nguyen shocked and saddened his co-workers. 

Among them is Christine Roch, a head night shift nurse at the hospital who worked closely with Nguyen.

A few weeks ago, she attended a vigil held in Turin Park, just across the street from Jean-Talon Hospital. Roch told CBC that she thought Nguyen would recover.

Christine Roch, a head nurse at Jean-Talon Hospital, was certain Thong Nguyen would pull through after he contracted COVID-19. (CBC)

"I just remember telling myself: 'Well, there's no problem, because he's young, he's strong, he's in health, he's going make it," she said.

Then she learned he was in hospital and he was in bad shape. He died about five weeks after contracting the coronavirus.

"It was really rough, because everybody just kept hope that he'd make it," said Roch.

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 5,660 Quebec residents.

With files from Matt D'Amours and Lauren McCallum

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