COVID victim's granddaughter angry coronavirus got into special care home

·5 min read
Denise Levesque, a resident of Pavillon Beau-Lieu, a special care home in Grand Falls, died on Sunday of COVID-19.  (Submitted by Michelle Levesque - image credit)
Denise Levesque, a resident of Pavillon Beau-Lieu, a special care home in Grand Falls, died on Sunday of COVID-19. (Submitted by Michelle Levesque - image credit)

Denise Levesque made amazing pizza and terrible baked beans — and she didn't deserve to die alone, gasping for breath because of COVID-19, said her granddaughter and namesake Denise Miller.

The Kingston Peninsula woman says her grandmother succumbed to COVID-19 on Sunday at the Edmundston Regional Hospital, becoming the 37th person in New Brunswick to die from the disease.

"She was my grandmother, and nobody deserves to pass away alone in a home like that, at no fault of their own. And if it comes out that it was an unvaccinated staff member, or a staff member that travelled, or somebody from Ontario that came in, it's unacceptable."

Miller has heard various versions from friends and family about how the virus got into the home. The common thread is that someone didn't properly self-isolate and that makes Miller furious.

So does the idea of unvaccinated long-term care workers.

"I don't know if that's what caused this problem, but it's a no-brainer. If you're going to work with vulnerable populations, you should be vaccinated or you should find a new line of work. You don't risk that."

Denise Levesque shown here with Denise Miller's daughter, Hunter Anne, in 2012.
Denise Levesque shown here with Denise Miller's daughter, Hunter Anne, in 2012. (Submitted by Denise Miller)

Public Health does not go into detail about its investigations into how the disease gets into a place. Attempts to talk to administrators at Pavillon Beau-Lieu have been unsuccessful.

Last month, Premier Blaine Higgs noted that "only 59 per cent of long-term care workers have chosen to be vaccinated," compared with more than 90 per cent of residents of homes and about 90 per cent of workers at regional health authorities.

Miller said workers at long-term care homes and nursing homes shouldn't be able to refuse the vaccine and continue to work with some of the province's most vulnerable citizens. Her grandmother, like of the majority of residents at the home, was vaccinated.

"I know we live in a democracy, but these people [who live in care facilities] have rights, too. They don't have a choice."

On Monday, Pavillon Beau-Lieu confirmed that another of its residents died of COVID-19 on Sunday night. Officials said 35 residents, including the two who died, have tested positive for COVID-19.

One mess-up has now affected somebody that didn't deserve to die. - Denise Miller

Miller said she's been pleased with the government's efforts to control COVID-19.

Even before her grandmother was diagnosed, she said she was quick to publicly defend Public Health officials and the restrictions they imposed.

But she draws the line at allowing unvaccinated long-term care workers to remain on the job.

"It's just devastating to think anyone ... has to pass away alone in a hospital, gasping for breath."

Miller said her grandmother was healthy and certainly didn't have any breathing problems.

When she was first diagnosed, she didn't even have any symptoms.

Denise Levesque at her 80th birthday celebration in 2014.
Denise Levesque at her 80th birthday celebration in 2014. (Submitted by Denise Miller)

After developing breathing problems last week, she was given oxygen at the home. On Friday, said her daughter Michelle Levesque, she was moved to the hospital, where her health declined very quickly.

Many family members didn't realize how sick she was until "we were told she had hours," Miller said. "She was barely able to breathe. They were just making her comfortable."

'She made wicked pizza'

Denise Levesque was 86. She was a resident at Pavillon Beau-Lieu, a special care home in Grand Falls. She had seven children and 14 grandchildren.

She worked for years at Noel's Pizza Place in Grand Falls, not far from her home, said Miller.

"She made wicked pizza, good bread," said Miller.

But she made terrible baked beans and often threatened to send Miller home with some. It became a running joke between the two.

Having grown up in the Saint John area, Miller said, she wasn't as close to her grandmother as she'd like to have been, but she visited her every year at Christmas.

Miller said COVID-19 was already making it difficult for families to stay close — particularly with travel restrictions in place, but she said the variants have "changed the game."

Denise Levesque was admitted to hospital with trouble breathing on Friday. On Sunday, she became the 37th person in New Brunswick to die from COVID-19.
Denise Levesque was admitted to hospital with trouble breathing on Friday. On Sunday, she became the 37th person in New Brunswick to die from COVID-19. (Submitted by Michelle Levesque)

And she is furious that travellers are taking chances with other people's loved ones.

She bristles when she hears people bragging about "dodging" the isolation requirements at the border.

"I'm sorry, but there's a reason for it. Because people aren't doing the right thing. And one mess-up has now affected somebody that didn't deserve to die. I don't care how old she was … She's a senior citizen. She was older. She was diabetic. That doesn't matter. It was preventable," said Miller.

"This woman, she had grandchildren, she had great grandchildren. She had a few years left. She didn't have health problems that would have caused her to pass away."

While most people are doing the right thing, Miller said it only takes one person flouting the rules "to cause something like this."

"If you're told to isolate, you isolate and for heaven's sakes, don't go to a long-term care home, especially if you're not vaccinated."