Losing one of their own to COVID: Flint hospital mourns beloved nurse

Now, with cases rising across the state and 2,800 Michiganders currently hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID diagnoses, it’s a frustratingly familiar feeling to those who worked alongside Staples during the initial surge. 

“People don’t understand: you have to wear your masks,” said Ronda Cavalry, an RN who knew Staples for years. “You have to. You have to use your hand sanitizer. People are dying and it’s senseless. She shouldn’t have died. And those nurses in there, they are working with them every day. We have two floors now that are full with COVID patients again. We’re going right back to where we were last March,” she said, her voice wavering.

“She was a good nurse. I think when she made her mind up to go on the respirator, I think she knew her outcome.” — Sophia Staples, Santa’s sister 

“COVID shouldn’t have took her,” Sophia Staples said. “She was 59 years old. She would have been 60 this Christmas Day. She didn’t get that. She didn’t get to do that. You know, it’s a lot of stuff she left undone that we have to pick up. She had every intention of coming home (when hospitalized with COVID). She didn’t think this was going to happen. 

“But, you know, she was a good nurse. I think when she made her mind up to go on the respirator, I think she knew her outcome. Because like they said, she knew her job. It’s just hard for us not being able to be there. You have to rely on somebody else to tell you how she’s doing, and you want to see it for yourself. My mother hasn’t seen her in over forty days, before she went in the hospital. So she didn’t get a chance to see her, you know, and that’s the hard part.”

While the state doesn’t keep track of how many healthcare workers have died of COVID, SEIU Local 875 spokesperson Kelly Indish said they knew of at least three hospital staffers at McLaren Flint who had died, as well as three spouses of healthcare staff. 

A spokesperson for McLaren Flint didn’t respond to questions about how many healthcare workers had died of COVID, or how many were currently quarantined, but offered a statement on Staples’ passing via email. 

“It is with profound sadness that McLaren Flint shares the loss of a co-worker, Santa Staples, RN,” spokesperson Sherry Farney wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Santa’s family, friends, and our team members who worked alongside this health care hero. She has compassionately served the community for 33 years at McLaren, most recently as an operating room nurse. Santa’s coworkers shared that she was truly devoted and compassionate.”

Meanwhile, the Michigan Nurses Association confirmed the passing of another nurse,  Maribel Tabanguil-May, at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, last week. She also died from COVID.  

“Maribel was an amazing nurse, active union member, and loving parent,” said MNA president Jamie Brown. “She has worked at our hospital for about four decades and never stopped advocating for her patients. She will be deeply missed and was taken from us too soon.”

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