‘Total hell’: PSW describes working through COVID-19 outbreak at Ont. long-term care home

OTTAWA — A personal support worker at a long-term care home in Barrie, Ont. said dealing with one of the largest COVID-19 variant outbreaks in Canada was “total hell.”

Elizabeth Perez works at Roberta Place, which saw all 129 of its residents test positive for COVID-19 last month. In total, 71 residents died from the virus.

“It felt like a warzone,” Perez told CTV News. “It was hell. It was complete, total hell.”

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit confirmed last month that the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., played a significant role in the virus’ spread through the facility.

Through the chaos, Perez tried to carve out any kind of peace she could give her residents during their dying moments. She specifically remembers one resident who died in front of her.

“I held on to his hand,” she said. “It seemed like he was already gone.”

“That was the moment that really hit me. That made me realize, because you’re just putting these people in body bags after body bags.’” 

In addition to the residents, 105 staff also tested positive for the virus, including Perez. She was forced to say goodbye to her seven-year-old son via video chat before she went to quarantine at a hotel.

“I mostly missed hugging her and kissing her,” said Perez’s son Jacob. 

Health-care workers have been at a particular risk during the second wave of COVID-19. According to data released on Thursday from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), COVID-19 infections in Canadian health-care workers have tripled since the summer, adding up to more than 65,000 since the start of the pandemic.

While the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit officially declared the outbreak at the facility over last week, residents and staff are still dealing with the mental toll of the outbreak.

Perez, for one, is now in counselling and off work.

“It’s hard just to get into the shower,” she said. “I basically just lay there. I cry a lot. I don’t think there has been a day where I haven’t cried.”


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