As Manitoba announces a record-breaking number of people are in intensive care units because of COVID-19, a Winnipeg woman is pleading with the province to do something — anything, at all — to prevent the kind of death her mother had in hospital from the virus.
"She was my best friend and I’m completely heartbroken," Lilian Bonin told the Free Press on Saturday about her mother Christine who died at Victoria General Hospital, where at least a dozen others have died due to an outbreak affecting staff and patients at the facility.
"It happened last week and I’m still in shock. I couldn’t even be there to hold her hand."
At least 45 people are now in ICUs and 385 new infections of COVID-19 have been added to Manitoba’s caseload, public health said Saturday. Ten more people have died from the virus — adding up to 217 deaths so far in the province.
One of those was Lilian’s mother, "beautiful, funny and just completely charming," Christine Bonin — who was admitted to hospital because of a bladder condition.
For several "gruelling" days before her death, Bonin said she begged hospital staff for her mother to be tested while an outbreak was declared there in late October.
"They kept saying, ‘no-no, don’t worry. She’s not been in contact with someone who has the virus,’" she said. "Until, finally, they told me they’d tested her and that she had COVID."
After that, Bonin asked if her family should also get tested, or even isolate, since she’d been spending several hours a day at the hospital before her mother’s results.
But the hospital told her she should carry on with her daily activities.
One after the other, the whole family — Bonin’s husband, son and herself — tested positive for COVID-19, after they took the onus upon themselves to get tested out of caution.
"It just completely aches my heart about the kind of distorted messaging this is giving. Not only did I probably get the virus from the hospital, which is already scary, but I could've been walking around spreading it to other people." ‐ Lilian Bonin
"It just completely aches my heart about the kind of distorted messaging this is giving," said Bonin. "Not only did I probably get the virus from the hospital, which is already scary, but I could’ve been walking around spreading it to other people."
In the days since the family learned about their own infections in early November, Christine’s condition deteriorated rapidly. While they quarantined and tried to check in on her remotely, they could barely ever speak with her or learn of how she was doing.
"The hospital staff was just so completely slammed and had so much on their plate that we barely knew how bad things had gotten," said Bonin.
"It all just felt as if they weren’t prepared for anything like this second wave at all, like they were working so hard and still holding barely by a thread."
Soon after, Christine died. And not only could the family not kiss, hug or even hold her hand, they had to seek special permission from the hospital’s director to see her from a distance for less than 20 minutes to say goodbye.
Bonin is now calling out the province for their "failure to plan or provide any resources to hospitals when so many people are in ICUs" like her mom. She said she’s also worried about staffing at personal and long-term care homes.
"That’s definitely something we’re all concerned about," said Laurie Cerqueti, chief executive officer of the Saul & Claribel Simkin Jewish personal care home in Winnipeg. "Frankly, our staff now doesn’t have even have time now anymore to be doing any of the feeding while they’re strained on their other task."
The Simkin Centre has issued a call-out of volunteers to fill in their staffing gaps by helping to feed its residents.
"We know there’s obvious risks because we do have an ongoing outbreak at our facility as well," said Cerqueti of the site where at least one or two deaths from COVID-19 have been announced every week for the last four weeks.
"Even the 250 plus staff isn’t enough right now. It couldn’t be more concerning and it’s just completely frightening."
Those interested in volunteering can reach out to the Simkin centre and will receive a short training and orientation before they begin, said Cerqueti.
Meantime, CUPE 204 President Debbie Boissonneault said health-care workers at personal and long-term care homes are also "drastically short" of personal protective equipment.
Boissonneault, who represents 14,000 health care workers across Manitoba, said staff at care homes in Winnipeg are also routinely being reassigned from one facility to another — without proper equipment, training or any notice.
"We’ve heard several of our members telling us they’ll get a call one day to be in a personal care home and then have to be in a long-term care home the next," she said. "And the fact is, they’re not trained to handle both. They’re very different roles."
Boissonneault said, "it’s just an unprecedented shortage of staff across the board — in hospitals and at care homes."
Of the new cases announced Saturday, 94 are in the Southern Health, 34 are in the Northern Health region, 26 are in the Interlake-Eastern health region, and 15 are in the Prairie Mountain Health region. Winnipeg health region has 218 new cases.
Public health officials have also declared outbreaks at Grace Hospital Unit 3 North in Winnipeg, Dakota House in Winnipeg, Eastview Place in Altona, Tabor Home in Morden, Fernwood Place in Steinbach, and Lion Prairie Manor and Douglas Campbell Lodge in Portage la Prairie.
There are now 8,012 active cases in Manitoba, while 5,705 individuals in the province have recovered from the virus.
At least 276 people are in hospital because of COVID-19.
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.