Lou Arab | CUPE Communications

If you or a loved one are living in a senior’s home or long-term care facility, Bukola Abiona is the person you want working there.

Abiona, who came to Canada from Nigeria in 2008, is a licenced practical nurse (LPN) at Intercare South in Calgary. She takes her job seriously – and it’s not just about medicine.

Abiona wants to treat residents with love.

“It’s give and take. Whatever you sow, you shall reap. I sing with them, I dance with them, I buy things for them. I just feel this is how I would love my parents to be treated,” says Bukola Abiona.

Originally educated as a chemical engineer, she switched to nursing when she was unable to meet Canadian requirements to continue in her first profession. She started studying to be an LPN while working as a health care aide and raising three children on her own.

Abiona originally planned to continue her studies and become a registered nurse, but life got in the way. Among other things, she became active in CUPE. After a successful organizing drive at her new workplace, CUPE Local 8 needed a vice-president. At a meeting she was unable to attend, the members nominated her to serve. After a phone call from the Local President Colette Singh, Abiona’s union activism was underway.

“I told Colette, I’m so sorry, I don’t know anything about unions, but I don’t want to disappoint the members, because I think they trust me, that is why they nominated me. Colette told me I should not be scared, that I’ll be trained.”

Nowhere in Alberta has COVID-19 hit worse than in Calgary, particularly in the long-term care and meat packing sectors. At Abiona’s worksite, the two worlds collided when co-workers married to meat packing employees tested positive for the virus.

Long-term care was already deeply understaffed in Alberta due to underfunding and poor wages. The loss of these employees, plus health concerns from the remaining workers, has added to her workload.

“For the past few days, we have been working 12-hour shifts. We’re only supposed to work seven hours.”

“It’s very challenging, but I give kudos to all members who have been coming to work and who have been working together trying to keep the residents safe and also keep ourselves safe.”

Is she worried about getting sick?

“I don’t want to get sick. I do a lot of hand washing and once I get home, I changed clothes in my garage. I have a laundry basket there, where I dropped all my clothes before going into the house. I go in straight, I take my shower, I don’t talk to anybody or hug anybody, until I finish taking care of myself.”