New York, NY – Evelyn Brown, 43, is a veteran health aide at an assisted living facility in the Bronx and a UFCW Local 2013 member. In her 23-years on the job she has never seen anything quite like the devastation left by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I started to get concerned about the virus in late February,” says Brown. “I learned about it over the news in January, and I thought, how long will it take to get here? Then I saw cases tripling up here in New York. I went to the administrator at the time regarding PPE (personal protective equipment), because that is when a shortage started to happen.”
As coronavirus cases started to rise in late winter of 2020, Brown started to pray that the virus would not hit the Bronxwood Assisted Living facility where she worked, but it was already too late.
“At the time, my administrator was not proactive about the virus,” says Brown. “I don’t think he took it seriously. I don’t think he believed it will come to the building.”
When Brown asked her administrator if there were enough masks, she was told “not to worry about it,” because the media was just hyping the story, and that he would keep the workers informed.
UFCW President Louis Mark Carotenuto says a lack of preparedness and information led to healthcare workers being among the hardest hit by the virus.
“Like you heard in the news, they were taking people out of the hospital and moving them [to nursing homes],” he says. “Workers were not notified if people were coming in with Covid or not. They were intermingling patients on the various floors instead of separating them. For example, they could have created a Covid-wing or a Covid-floor. Facilities just weren’t doing that. If we didn’t push, people wouldn’t find out what was going on.”
Assisted living aides didn’t know what they were dealing with, but were expected to show up to work every day throughout the pandemic.
“They were expected to be there day in and day out,” Carotenuto says. “Then they [would] take that virus back to their families.”
Brown found herself in a similar situation, while waiting to learn more from her administrator about when mask supplies would increase.
“I was not informed about what was going on from the facility,” Brown says. “I had one resident who was struggling to breathe. He was actually the first one that we lost. Before he went to a hospital, we were taking care of him and I remember going into his room to help him shower. I was taking care of this gentleman that had it, unbeknownst to me and I had no PPE.”
Brown would wear the same mask for two to three weeks and wrap a paper towel around it for more protection. The client she was taking care of went to the hospital and died two days later.
“We later found out he had the virus, but then we had to go to the room and treat his roommate while being told not to change the PPE we did have, even though the other client had the virus,” says Brown. “The only thing we changed was the gloves.”
When Brown started to get sick with pounding headaches, backaches, a fever and shortness of breathe, she suggested to her administrator that she should quarantine, but was told it was flu season and that she “shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”
“On the floor that I worked on, we all had contact with this one person that just passed away,” Brown says. “That is when bodies started dropping. People started dying. We had a worker that passed.”
Brown, who already suffered with Lupus, got sick with Covid during the second week of March. It took a big toll on her. She developed pneumonia and was out for a month. Brown also believes that she gave the virus to all three of her children. Her husband decided to quarantine away from the rest of his family.
“My daughter was sick before I got sick,” says Brown of her then 2-year-old. “I took her to the emergency room. She had a fever of 105.6. The tested her for the flu. She had blisters on her tongue, red spots — but they never checked her for Covid.”
Browns baby daughter was sick for a week, but antibodies were later discovered in her child in July. Brown’s older children, 17 and 20, suffered body aches and coughs.
“At that time, they weren’t testing children,” says Brown. “My husband had to quarantine for months because I caught it a second time.”
Brown went back to work after recovering the first time. But less than three weeks later in May, she started having chest pains, abdominal pain and diarrhea. She also lost her sense of smell and taste. She quarantined again until July. By that time, her union and the state stepped in.
“When PPE became a [bigger] issue, the union donated N95 masks, goggles, gowns, and they even sent a Bronx councilman out there to give us supplies like hand sanitizers,” says Brown. “The State also stepped in, in May. If felt good. When the State came in, we had reassurance that someone heard us crying out for help.”
Brown has since gone back to work. She missed helping those in need, and being homebound made her depressed. But she has developed persistent memory loss.
“I forget a lot, and I never had this problem,” says Brown. “I still have gaps with my memory.”
Brown is upset with not knowing how much longer the virus will continue to rage on.
“It’s been a long road and there are people who still don’t take this seriously,” Brown says. “I brought this home to my family and that is my frustration. My hope is that we get better at dealing with this and become more informed then we are now.”