Read the Story from The Hartford Courant HereAngeline Bernadel loved her job at West River Healthcare Center in Milford. But by mid-March, the 52-year-old nurse had become concerned about the new coronavirus, which was just beginning its grim race through nursing homes across the state.
“She was panicked,” said her husband, Jean Bernadel. “She told me, ‘I can die because this virus is terrible.'”
She began feeling sick on March 30. Two days later, with her fever climbing to 102 degrees, her husband drove her to the doctor. “She had all the symptoms,” Jean Bernadel said.
The doctor instructed Angeline Bernadel to quarantine herself at home for two weeks. Her husband tended to her, boiling cloves and citrus peels to create steam to ease her breathing, and serving her a nourishing soup of potatoes, carrots and spinach when she felt like eating.
But on April 4, less than a week after she first fell ill, Angeline Bernadel died at home.
Remembering those in Connecticut that we’ve lost to coronavirus »
From physicians to nurses to home health aides, health care workers have been on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. Many have become infected after working closely with COVID-19 patients, but there has been no clear accounting of how many have died. Hospitals and nursing homes have not publicly identified those employees, citing confidentiality laws.
Asked how many employees or patients have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials at West River Healthcare declined to comment. A public relations firm handling communications for the company that owns the facility issued a brief statement about Angeline Bernadel’s death. “Angeline was a devoted employee and our sympathy goes out to her family,” said Victoria Walker, managing partner with W Creative Agency.
State statistics released Thursday evening show seven residents at West River have tested positive for COVID-19 and two have died.
Pedro Zayas, a spokesman for SEIU 1199NE, which represents nurses, certified nursing assistants and other health care workers, said at least one of its members has died of the virus in Connecticut. Since early March, more than 1,700 nursing home residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 375 have died.
Some nursing home employees who work closely with patients say they have not been provided with adequate protective equipment, forcing them to improvise with trash bags and homemade masks. On Thursday, protesters gathered — in their cars — at the union’s headquarters in Hartford and drove to the state Capitol to highlight concerns about the lack of protective gear.
Nursing homes have been chronically understaffed and the current crisis has only worsened the problem, Zayas said. The work is difficult and the pay is generally low. “Most of our members in the nursing home division are women and most are women of color and immigrants,” he said.
Angeline Bernadel worked long hours but the job brought her joy, her husband said. She was devoted to her patients, often helping them with errands such as picking up their medicine. Since her death, many of those patients and their families have flooded her family with condolence cards.
Born in Haiti, Bernadel moved to the U.S. in 1995. A job in health care provided opportunities for advancement and an entry into a middle-class life. She started her career as a certified nursing assistant, but went back to school to earn a degree as a licensed practical nurse.
More recently, Bernadel had been enrolled in an online class to become a registered nurse. She was close to finishing when she died, her husband said.
The couple raised two children — their son, Jonathan, who works at a bank and their daughter, Ruth, who attends UConn, where she is studying to be a pharmacist.
“She was a good wife and a good mother,” Jean Bernadel said.
Along with profound grief, the family is also coping with economic uncertainty: Jean works as a driver but with a stay-at-home order in place, few people need his services. Angeline was the family’s primary wage earner.
“I have a mortgage I have to pay, but I don’t have any work,” Jean Bernadel said.
The family’s Stratford house bears the imprint of Angeline’s decorative touch: she enjoyed watching HGTV and liked to try out the ideas she saw on her favorite shows.
After four difficult days in quarantine at home, she seemed to be improving, Jean Bernadel said. On the morning of April 4, her temperature had dipped back to normal and she told her husband she was going upstairs.
About a half-hour later, he went up to check on her and discovered that she had died. Now, he said, “I keep crying every day.”