A rehabilitation and addiction treatment center in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood is dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus.
At Haymarket Center, there are 45 confirmed cases of the virus, including 31 clients and 14 staff members, according to officials.
Two employees at the facility have died, including Ken Cheverko.
“Ken was my friend. I just know he was very nervous to go to work. And, we would talk about that,” said Sam Provenzano, a former colleague and friend of Cheverko.
Admittedly, Provenzano resigned from the facility in December. He says Haymarket Center uses a “holistic approach” to treat patients with no other place to go, and while he supports the mission of the facility, he takes issue with his friend’s final days.
“I understand those folks on the front line, and they do some great work. They need to be there, absolutely, but Ken didn’t need to be there,” said Provenznano. “I don’t want my friend Ken to be forgotten. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Cheverko’s family believes he passed away on Monday, April 6, from complications with coronavirus. By phone, his sister says they are “shocked and devastated” at his passing.
When asked why he was not working from home, she told NBC 5 “it was not his personality to complain.”
Haymarket’s President and CEO responded to those comments, saying the epidemic has presented many challenges to community-based organizations.
“I do recognize and do understand that our staff are anxious,” said Dr. Dan Lustig. “We’ve been very, very aggressive with cleaning.”
Haymarket says its facility is cleaned and disinfected twice daily, and all staff and clients are required to wear masks. Outpatient services were restricted March 24, and inpatient clients who’ve tested positive are isolating together, while infected staff have been asked to stay home.
Even with those practices, at least one former employee is raising concerns about what is considered “essential” work at the facility.
She asked NBC 5 to remain anonymous as she explained why she quit in late March.
“Them considering me an essential worker is what made me leave,” she said. “That was the final straw. There was no need for me to be there, none.”
The former grant specialist says she and others were offered a $300 attendance bonus starting March 17, if they did not take unscheduled paid time off.
NBC 5 has obtained a copy of an internal staff memo detailing the program.
“If someone is a nurse or a direct care worker they deserve that $300 bonus, not me,” the former employee said. “I’m unnecessarily putting myself at risk.”
Haymarket Center says, as an essential facility, staffing patterns have fluctuated during this difficult time, but all staff are provided proper personal protective equipment.
“We are a community based organization. We are a grassroots organization. Staff are being asked to fill in wherever we have vacancies,” Dr. Lustig said.
Dr. Lustig says the facility has been recognized by an infectious disease doctor with the Chicago Department of Public Health for its work on best practices in congregate living settings.