Since publishing this story Thursday, The News has learned that Fraser Health’s statements on Tuesday and last Friday were solely in regards to Worthington Pavilion’s long-term care unit. The rehabilitation unit has seen three deaths and 16 cases; the long-term care unit has now seen seven cases and zero deaths. The News first asked Tuesday for information on deaths at Worthington and has yet to hear back.
The family of Ervin Friedenstab says the 83-year-old senior died from COVID-19 complications after contracting it at Worthington Pavilion, contradicting Fraser Health’s statements that no patients linked to the Abbotsford care facility have succumbed to the virus.
The lack of public disclosure about Friedenstab’s death has his granddaughter concerned that the public doesn’t know the full scale of the outbreak at the publicly-owned-and-operated long-term care and rehabilitation facility.
Friedenstab died in Abbotsford Regional Hospital on April 17, after his health rapidly deteriorated 10 days after being admitted. His granddaughter Cassie Friedenstab says hospital officials told his family he died from complications of COVID-19, and that they should not touch his belongings for two weeks.
But on Tuesday, Dr. Martin Lavoie, the chief medical health officer for Fraser Health, said only two patients at Worthington have contracted COVID-19 and that neither had died. Those cases were announced on April 3 and May 1.
Those figures appear to exclude both Friedenstab, 83, and a second member of his family, who also tested positive for COVID-19 during a stay in Worthington’s rehabilitation unit.
“His positive test should have been reported, and his death should have been reported because the public has the right to know and there are other people’s loved ones who are in Worthington right now,” Cassie told The News.
“Other people’s family members are at risk of catching this. [Worthington officials] not being honest about it and not saying, ‘Yes, we did lose someone at this facility because of coronavirus,’ that’s important not only for my family but for the community to know.”
Friedenstab lived in Aldergrove and ran Columbia Drilling and Contracting, a blasting and construction company that did work around the Fraser Valley. An explosives expert, he helped with pyrotechnic displays at the Abbotsford Airshow.
It was Friedenstab, a believer in the importance of outdoor physical activity, who memorably bought Cassie her first bike.
“He tried his best to be there for us,” she said. “He was a very hard-working man. He was very caring and loving, very family-oriented.”
Friedenstab was in Worthington’s rehabilitation unit after breaking his hip and injuring his back. Cassie said he was initially tested for COVID-19 after his roommate was diagnosed with the virus.
That test came back negative, but when Friedenstab began showing symptoms, he was tested again.
That test was positive, his family was later told, and he was taken to hospital. Cassie says the family wasn’t notified by Worthington when Friedenstab was transferred to hospital.
At first, Friedenstab’s health was stable, but during the second week of his stay, his breathing worsened and his organs began to shut down, Cassie said. His family was warned that Friedenstab’s health was deteriorating at 7:30 a.m. on April 17. He died about an hour later.
“Everything the hospital told my father is exactly the same protocols as if someone had COVID-19.”
She said that it’s important that her grandfather be accounted for when considering how well Worthington has dealt with the threat of the virus.
“His death needs to be validated. He did die of the coronavirus and people need to be aware of that happening. And I’m concerned about the other people at Worthington … I just don’t like the fact that they’re saying one person fully recovered and there’s one other positive test.
“Personally, I would rather people know that that’s how he passed away. Yes, he was dealing with some surgeries, but that should not have killed him. A hip surgery is a pretty common surgery. He shouldn’t have died from that. The fact is, he was placed in a room with somebody who tested positive for coronavirus and the way things ended up going should not have happened.”
Cassie is also troubled because a second family member was diagnosed with COVID-19 after also having been at Worthington. That diagnosis was made around April 24, Cassie said, and the family member is in hospital. But Fraser Health did not announce a second COVID-19 case linked to Worthington until May 1.
Fraser Health said last week that there was no connection between the first case reported in early April and the new case, and outbreaks at care homes have typically been announced as they have been identified. Four staff members at the facility have also been diagnosed with COVID-19, Lavoie said Tuesday.
Worthington Pavilion is owned and run by Fraser Health.
For Cassie, her family’s experience has left her concerned that others with loved ones at Worthington don’t have all the information they need.
“I know of three people who tested positive and one death I know happened,” she said.
The News has asked Fraser Health to explain the disparity, but did not receive a response by press time.
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