Home-care worker with COVID-19 says more will get infected unless people are better protected

Evelyne Pichler, who works in the West Island, said the way her company responded is unacceptable, and that a lack of concern for the safety of health-care workers and the elderly is "why Montreal is as bad as it is."

Evelyne Pichler tested positive after serving West Island client who died from the virus

Images on a sign giving thanks to health care workers can be seen outside the CHSLD Éloria Lepage in Montreal. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

On April 30, Evelyne Pichler, a home-care worker in the West Island, saw that a regular client wasn't on her upcoming schedule.

Pichler learned by calling the woman's home in Pointe-Claire that she had died that morning of complications from COVID-19.

It's what happened next that left Pichler stunned.

After learning of her client's death and the cause of it, Pichler says she called her boss at Comfort Keepers, a global home-care company with several Montreal franchises.

Her boss said she had not been informed of the client's death. She also said Pichler didn't need to get tested.

"She said, 'You're going to be fine, you had a mask and gloves, you're gonna be fine,'" Pichler told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"Because at that point I was still pretty asymptomatic. I didn't have anything. Then she said, 'Well, if you really insist, you can go.'"

Pichler has since tested positive for the virus and is now at home resting. She's certain that she was infected by the client who had died.

Evelyne Pichler is concerned the level of protection for health-care workers serving the eldely is inadequate. After caring for a client who died from the virus, she herself tested positive for COVID-19. (Submitted by Evelyne Pichler)

The response from Comfort Keepers, Pichler said, shows a lack of concern for the safety of health-care workers and the elderly — and could lead to more deaths. 

The vast majority of deaths in Quebec are related to the virus are in the elderly population, with outbreaks at understaffed institutional care homes linked to cross-contamination by health-care workers moving from residence to residence.

Pichler says workers are shuffled to different clients and have been given minimal protective equipment.

"They never know who's going through their front door," she said. 

Company says it was following guidelines

Jill Eusanio, the director of operations for Comfort Keepers in Quebec, said the company was following the recommendations of the local CLSC, the community health and social-service centre that assigns caregivers with clients.

The CLSC says caregivers who have tested positive should stay home for at least 14 days and only return to work once they have tested negative for the virus and are no longer showing symptoms.

Since April 7, it has been providing home-care workers with a mask and gloves.

Eusanio said Comfort Keepers has shared that equipment with workers.

"If she had her gloves and mask, that's what we were told to do," Eusanio said, suggesting that Pichler could have been the one who infected the client.

"Who's to say where it came from?"

Pichler said she regularly changed gloves, but she only had one mask to wear when visiting multiple clients in a day.

Eusenio said that of the 400 workers employed by the company in the province, Pichler is the only one she is aware of who tested positive.

But she also acknowledged she doesn't know how many have been tested.

"From experience, the COVID centre is refusing to test almost all my workers unless they have fever and are coughing," Eusanio said.

Pichler said she called the CLSC, and was told they had notified Comfort Keepers on April 29 that the client had tested positive.

According to Pichler, the woman at the CLSC said they had advised Comfort Keepers "to notify all our caregivers with a number to call if they had any concerns."

Eusanio said they had done that with workers who had seen the client in the five days before her death. Pichler had last seen the client a week earlier.

"So had I not been tested I would've been out all last week infecting other clients," she said.

'It totally floors you'

Pichler said she still spends most of the day in bed, contending with the symptoms.

"It totally floors you," she said. "I haven't been able to get up. I can't eat. The headaches are terrible, the nausea, the diarrhea. I mean it's everything."

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal acknowledged the provision of equipment to home-care companies.

"In the case of home care, the CIUSSS ensures that agencies within its jurisdiction are fully equipped to provide safe care to residents and to protect their staff," the spokesperson wrote.

"We are in constant contact with them and the [Health Ministry] to ensure that the situation remains that way."

Based on reporting by CBC Montreal's Daybreak

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