Speaking Out on the Death of a Montreal Health Worker

Thong Nguyen

Thong Nguyen was a 48-year-old father and orderly who worked at the emergency ward of Jean-Talon Hospital in Montreal. He was infected with the COVID-19 virus in May and died on June 11. The Labour Standards, Equity and Occupational Health and Security Board (CNESST) filed a report on his death which was not made public but the newspaper La Presse was allowed to view it. The report does not establish that Thong Nguyen contracted the virus while on duty, in spite of the fact that it was determined that he had worked in all three areas of the hospital handling COVID-19 cases. It also asserts that other orderlies told the CNESST inspector that during the pandemic they had no training on the correct measures to take in light of the pandemic and that there was a regular lack of protective masks. In spite of acknowledging this, the inspector asserts that "according to documents given to her by the employer, several training courses and procedures were established to protect the workers and prevent the propagation of the COVID-19." She claims that the workers interrogated could not tell her the "precise chronology of events" regarding the work environment in the weeks prior to the worker being declared positive for COVID-19. She therefore concludes that no corrective measures are required on the part of the hospital in question.

This assessment is being soundly criticized by Thong Nguyen's family as well as by associated unions. Doctor Lan Nguyen is Thong Nguyen's cousin and spokesperson for the family. She says she is extremely disappointed by the superficiality of this report which basically asserts that everything is fine and that nothing needs to be improved. "The state is doing everything possible to recruit new orderlies but is making no effort to pinpoint the shortcomings so as to understand how to better protect them," she said.

Alexandre Paquet, the President of the Union of Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre (CIUSSS) workers of Montreal North-CSN writes: "Thong Nguyen died while waging a daily fight on the ground against COVID-19. Yet, the CNESST is not suggesting any corrective measures in its report. As if it is normal to lose your life while doing your job and as if the system is just fine." He adds: "This ruling is sending a very bad message to the effect that if you are infected with COVID-19 and you die while doing your job, you may very well not be compensated. Your family will be left on its own, in financial insecurity."

Jeff Begley, President of the Federation of Health and Social Services (FSSS-CSN), stated: "When we see more than 13,600 health workers were infected in the first wave, that is a problem. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the pandemic, the CNESST claims to simply be following the recommendations of Public Health. And yet, the casualties among these workers show that these recommendations are not enough to protect the personnel."

The fact that the government and its institutions are not actively seeking to get to the bottom of why health workers -- as well the elderly -- were infected in such great numbers, nor what are the circumstances surrounding deaths such as that of Thong Nguyen, is both callous and socially irresponsible. It is totally unacceptable that workers are treated with such disrespect and that their demands and those of their families and unions to correct this situation, especially in case of a resurgence of COVID-19, are continually ignored by the government and its institutions. The dignity and integrity of health workers and their patients is at the heart of the health system that the people want and need and raising our voices and pushing in that direction is an integral part of transforming the situation so as to attain a health system and work environment fit for human beings.

This article was published in

Number 54 - August 13, 2020

Article Link:
Speaking Out on the Death of a Montreal Health Worker - Pierre Soublière


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