Published May 20. 2020 9:45AM | Updated May 20. 2020 11:14AM

By Greg Smith
Day staff writer

New London — A 52-year-old nurse’s aide working at Lawrence Memorial Hospital has died of COVID-19, the first reported death of a hospital staff member in southeastern Connecticut.

“We have lost a fighter today. Elva Graveline was a (patient care assistant) here at the hospital on 5.2, as we know it as the ‘COVID 19 unit,’” Connie Fields, president of the L M health care workers union, wrote in an message to fellow hospital employees.

“We need to fight for those that can’t fight any longer. Elva was COVID-19 positive,” Fields said.

L M on Tuesday reported it had 20 COVID-19 patients at the hospital. It is unclear, however, how many of its staff members have contracted the virus. Details of Graveline’s case were not immediately available.

“We are devastated at the loss of one of our employees to the coronavirus. Any loss is one too many but one close to home is heartbreaking. We offer our sympathy and condolences to the family,” said Fiona Phelan, a spokeswoman for L M Hospital.

“We encourage our staff to take advantage of the counseling resources available to them through the Employee Assistance Program, our spiritual care providers, the Chapel, and the Oasis Room,” she said.

Fields was not immediately available to comment, but said in her message to hospital employees: “I will not rest until L M does right by us, the employees that are sacrificing their lives.”

On May 13, staff at L M participated in a “Solemn Stand in Solidarity,” a rally organized by the local health care workers union to support colleagues that the union says have been overwhelmed and lack personal protective equipment.

“We have been begging since (March 13) for safety for our members. Everyday Monday-Friday. To save pennies cost Elva’s life,” Fields wrote in her message. “’OUR LIVES MATTER’ no matter what L M says. May 30th we will stand in solidarity for ELVA GRAVELINE, our sister.”

A rally hosted by the four local AFT unions is scheduled for May 30 in New London, a call for the federal government to use the Defense Protection Act to immediately start manufacturing “sufficient PPE.”

“The longer we go without proper Personal Protective Equipment the longer the pandemic continues and the volume of deaths will continue to increase,” a flier for the rally reads.

Graveline, from North Stonington, is a member of the AFT Local 5123, which represents between 700 and 800 employees at L M, a group that includes nurses aides, phlebotomists, food service employees, cleaning staff and secretarial positions.

Terry Meadows, a field representative for AFT Connecticut, said the union has raised concerns about the safety of employees since March, when the coronavirus outbreak was still in the early stages.

“This is going to extremely impact the fear and concern that is already out there on a daily basis – the continued anxiety that they are not fully protected with the proper PPE,” Meadows said.

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