Jarvis: Another migrant farm worker dies alone in hotel room

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Another migrant farm worker died alone, in quarantine in a hotel room in a foreign country, after testing positive for COVID-19.


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Another worker who came to Canada to earn a living will be sent home in a body bag.

He is the fifth migrant farm worker to die in Ontario during the pandemic. The third in Essex County.

And there is almost radio silence about his death.

On Thursday, three days after his death, local medical officer Dr Shanker Nesathurai, citing the need to protect people’s privacy, did not even confirm there had been a death.

On Friday, four days after his death, his death still did not appear to have been reported in daily pandemic updates from the Windsor Essex County Health Unit.

I was informed by a source who was “flabbergasted” that it had not been disclosed.

The cause of death – like virtually everything related to his death – has not been reported. But we do know that he had tested positive for COVID-19.


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Pointed questions must answer the survey.

Joe Sbrocchi, executive director of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, says the hotel where the man was self-isolating had been cleared for that purpose. Was it? No official has confirmed this.

Joseph Sbrocchi, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, is pictured at his Leamington office in this file photo.
Joseph Sbrocchi, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, is pictured at his Leamington office in this file photo. Photo by Nick Brancaccio /Windsor Star

Sbrocchi says someone, often the owner of the farm where the worker was employed, checked on the man twice a day. It was the owner who found him dead. Did the medical staff monitor his condition? By phone or in person? How many times?

Did the man have another medical condition that would have meant he faced a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19, requiring closer monitoring?

What other support has he received, such as appropriate meals, psychosocial support?


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Did he know who to call for help?

“Everyone did everything they were supposed to do and it still happened,” Sbrocchi said.

So how did this happen? How could a man in his forties, in good health according to Sbrocchi, die a day before the end of his isolation?

And if this investigation reveals anything less than solid care for him, will anyone be held accountable? Will it finally shame the federal government into acting after years of reports of unacceptable working and living conditions for the people we bring here to grow our food?

I hope we don’t find out that he would have been better off if we had forbidden him to come here.

He died five days after Nesathurai banned more migrant farm workers from coming to Essex County, saying we lacked the resources to properly isolate and monitor all workers already there who had tested positive. for COVID-19 or had been exposed to the virus.


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“The burden of COVID-19 among the migrant farmworker community at this time exceeds community resources to manage the appropriate and compassionate response,” he said at the time.

Eight farms, including 15 dormitories, had active cases and 275 workers were in self-isolation, with another 40 waiting for a place to self-isolate.

The Windsor Isolation and Recovery Center went from empty to full in days. Three other hotels were used to isolate workers, but they were “not as robust in providing clinical support as the self-isolation hotel”, Nesathurai said.

Was the deceased worker placed in a hotel that was “not as robust to provide clinical support?”

The order banning more workers was rescinded two days later after authorities rushed for more rooms and resources and Nesathurai said there was ‘sufficient capacity’ for workers to self-isolate’ in a safe and compassionate way”.


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Migrant farm workers, many of whom spend most of the year here and return here year after year, are residents of our community, “like anyone else”, as Nesathurai put it.

And public health must focus its resources on those most in need, who are at high risk of becoming infected and seriously ill, as Nesathurai also said.

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr Shanker Nesathurai.
Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr Shanker Nesathurai. Picture by handout /Windsor Star

There are 1,000 dormitories for migrant farm workers in Essex County. Up to 20 people share a kitchen and a bathroom. If one person is infected, the other 19 are likely to be exposed to the virus. This puts them at high risk.

And “if people are sick, they need someone to watch them,” Nesathurai said.

If their condition deteriorates, they must “be able to access hospital services”.

The federal auditor general’s December report on working conditions for migrant farm workers was just the latest to uncover all sorts of problems – “significant problems” with government inspections of working conditions, so-called safeguards that “offered little assurance of protection”.


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  1. Migrant farm workers work on a farm in Kingsville in this June 2020 file photo.

    Coroner’s office investigating death of migrant farm worker

  2. Migrant workers at a greenhouse in the Kingsville area are pictured in this June 2020 file photo.

    Death of quarantined migrant worker under investigation in Essex County

Before becoming acting Medical Officer of Health in Windsor and Essex County, Nesathurai was the Department of Health in Haldimand-Norfolk, which has the second largest number of migrant farm workers, around 4,000. Hundreds of workers there were also infected early in the pandemic and one died.

“Have there been any significant changes between last year and this year? he was quoted as saying by Global News. “I’m not sure there have been any significant changes.”

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