KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- Celia Yap-Banago was a nurse at Research Medical Center for 40 years, until her death earlier this week.
A union representative said she was just one week from retirement and died of COVID-19 after contracting it from a patient she was treating.
The hospital’s owner, HCA, has not confirmed that diagnosis. However, they said they are thinking only of her and her family tonight.
Celia’s Facebook page made it clear she enjoyed travel. HCA’s spokeswoman said Celia had “a deep commitment to her patients and her family, and a passion that endeared her to the nurses, physicians and every person she touched.”
The union contends that commitment is what led to her death, because HCA failed to provide proper protective equipment (PPE).
Several Research Medical Center nurses protested on that issue earlier this month, standing far apart to follow the rules of this time. It was part of a nationwide protest at 15 HCA hospitals across the nation.
A local union representative said availability has improved but not enough.
“As a nurse, I am devastated that we have lost someone in our own community,” said Angela Davis, a RMC ICU nurse. “This just underscores our need to further fight for the protection that we need.”
HCA representatives would not go on camera but sent a statement that reads, in part:
“We are deeply disappointed that while we continue to mourn our dear colleague and friend, Celia, the union is seeking to exploit Celia’s death as an opportunity to criticize the hospital for a global PPE shortage.
Not only is this simply not the case, but the challenges the pandemic has created for all hospitals are well understood. Research Medical Center is doing everything we can to protect our colleagues, not only today, but ensure supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) well into the future.”
On Thursday night, nearly 100 people gathered outside Research Medical Center with candles to honor Celia.
Organizers of the vigil said they would have a Zoom app presence so that her family can join them from the Philippines to celebrate her life, mourn her death, and make a call for change.
Celia was spirited and devoted. She was not the type to retire and was 69. She gave 40 years of her life to the hospital, its patients and its staff, whom she mentored. She loved what she did, the people she worked with and cared for, and of course, her family.
Her husband, niece, and two sons stood with the others holding candles in memory of her life and dedication.
“You’re either not smart to be in this job for 40 years or you are so compassionate and selfless that you dedicate your entire life to helping others,” said Jhulan Banago, Celia’s son.
Candles also lined the window of the fourth floor where Celia worked.
A nurse who worked beside her on that floor described her as joy and inspiration. “Celia was a little fireball. She was always making us laugh somehow, someway,” her coworker Charlene Carter said.