Working in a CHSLD During COVID-19

A patient care attendant’s tale

By David Landsman

Eleven weeks and three days, 53 shifts, 384.25 hours. That was my deployment in a CHSLD, broken down in numbers. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter; my future employment depended on it.

Let’s back up a little. I had been working as a patient care attendant – commonly known as a préposé aux bénéficiaires or PAB – part time at the Jewish General Hospital since January 2019, so I’m fairly new to the game when it comes to my vocation in the healthcare field.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit back in March, I was working weekend night shifts at the hospital. Fast forward to the end of April when I received a memo addressed to all part-time staff, mandated by the Department of Health, stating that I would be deployed full time to a Centre d’hébergement et de soins de longue durée (CHSLD) or face losing my job.

My first day was May 5th. I went to work at a residence not too far from the hospital and was immediately thrown into the midst of this deadly virus that had been ravaging long-term care facilities at an alarming rate. My very first interaction was with a nurse, who looked me up and down in my scrubs and asked, “Are you a PAB?” When I nodded nervously, she followed up with, “But, are you a ‘PAB’ PAB?” I quickly found out that while many people had applied to help out in CHSLDs, most weren’t qualified or trained in the field. I was one of the few who was. Of the 22 PABs posted to my floor, I was the lone deployment. I felt very alone; I knew no one.

Luckily for me, I’m social, so that anxiety quickly went away. The residence housed a total of 124 residents, ranging in age from 46 to 104. Not everyone got sick while I worked there, but sadly a large proportion of those who did, succumbed to the virus. There were roughly 25 deaths in that three-month period, half due to COVID-19.

I got to know one gentleman. When I first met him, he was brushing his own teeth, feeding and cleaning himself, and overall a very autonomous person. He was diagnosed with the virus on a Thursday, and by Saturday, was unable to get out of bed. He died a week later. I found out he was 90. Independent until COVID-19.

Another resident diagnosed with the virus was on such a rapid decline that a co-worker and I called his daughter so they could say their goodbyes since she was not allowed to be at his bedside. My colleague held the phone, and I clutched the man’s hand in his daughter’s absence as she emotionally told him that it was OK to let go. That was easily one of the most difficult moments of my life; I had to keep myself from bawling on the spot.

One of the cheerier parts of my deployment was getting to know my new co-workers. If it weren’t for them by my side, even in the darkest of times, I probably wouldn’t have survived the duration of my deployment.

We were a mixed bag of volunteers and staff: a 16-year-old on leave from Grade 10, recent paramedic graduates, university students, military personnel, and even an opera singer. They were some of the friendliest and most generous people I'd ever met. We bonded over socially distanced team lunches; we did our best to cope with the trauma we witnessed on a daily basis. We’d talk, we’d laugh, we’d cry, but at least we did it together.

I won’t lie; it wasn’t an easy three months. My deployment was physically, mentally and emotionally gruelling, but I’m proud of myself and of those who stepped up their game to come together to help do their part in flattening the curve. I’m blessed to have met, worked with and gotten to know some really remarkable people. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re definitely stronger together.


Fall 2020, Vol 12 N°4

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Fall 2020
Vol 12 N°4

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