Canadian nurses commute across the U.S.-Canada border to care for American patients

Due to the pandemic, the long border between the U.S. and Canada remains closed to non-essential travel. But essential does describe the work of a small army of Canadian healthcare workers. Every day they cross into the U.S. to care for American patients in Michigan hospitals, and during COVID, some got infected themselves. In Canada, there's been pushback from people who fear these healthcare workers could bring the virus home. Adriana Diaz spoke with two nurses who say despite those challenges, they wouldn't have it any other way.

Video Transcript

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JEFF GLOR: Due to the pandemic, the long border between the US and Canada remains closed to nonessential travel, but essential does describe the work of a small army of Canadian health care workers. Every day, they cross into the US to care for American patients in Michigan hospitals, and during COVID, some got infected themselves. In Canada, there's been a pushback from people who fear these health care workers could bring the virus back home. But Adriana Diaz spoke with two nurses who say, despite those challenges, they wouldn't have it any other way.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Detroit nurse Brent Gale's commute typically starts at 6:00 AM and in another country.

BRENT GALE: I cross an international border every day. So when someone here says they were late because of traffic, I'm like, I came from another country.

ADRIANA DIAZ: He works at St. Mary Mercy Livonia Hospital in Metro Detroit.

BRENT GALE: How you doing, brother?

- Fine, and yourself?

ADRIANA DIAZ: But lives across the Detroit River in Windsor, Canada.

- We are on Riverside Drive in Windsor, Ontario looking at Detroit.

ADRIANA DIAZ: At least 1,500 Canadians work in health care in Michigan, some drawn by more job opportunities.

Do your patients realize how many Canadian nurses there are working here in Detroit?

BRENT GALE: No, I don't think they do, but they tease and joke that I'll say something that'll be a turn of phrase and then, oh, you're Canadian. So you get that.

ADRIANA DIAZ: You say, "aboat" or something like that?

BRENT GALE: Apparently I do.

ADRIANA DIAZ: This small army of Canadians have risked their lives, especially in the spring of 2020, when COVID raged in the US and there were more daily COVID deaths in Michigan than in all of Canada.

BRENT GALE: It sucked. It was really bad. You'd see the wave coming. and you're, like, OK. We survived it. And then that next wave was coming again before you could catch your breath.

LYNDSEY LAFLEUR: And I just remember thinking, what is going on? We're running out of ventilators. Everybody needs to be intubated.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Canadian Lyndsey LaFleur has been an ER nurse at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital for nearly five years. She says last spring's surge is still vivid.

LYNDSEY LAFLEUR: I remember standing in the middle of the department and looking around dumbfounded and sad.

ADRIANA DIAZ: It must have been pretty overwhelming.

LYNDSEY LAFLEUR: I cried a lot, yeah.

Harper, say good morning. Morning, boo boo.

ADRIANA DIAZ: At COVID's worst in Detroit, she had a newborn at home in Canada and considered walking away from nursing.

How nervous were you about your baby?

LYNDSEY LAFLEUR: I was really nervous. She was really young, so we had her sleeping in a Pack 'n Play in our room. And I was sleeping in her room in a tent, because I wanted to conceal myself somehow.

ADRIANA DIAZ: So why do you do it? Why do you continue to come over the international border to work here in Detroit with COVID patients?

LYNDSEY LAFLEUR: I love working here. I love Detroit. I love the hospital that I work for. I love the people that I work with.

ADRIANA DIAZ: You like Detroiters?

LYNDSEY LAFLEUR: I like Detroiters, yeah.

BRENT GALE: It's not a border. It's just a line we cross, and we're the same people. And I think it would have been horribly cowardly to-- yeah, to abandon my American cousins.

ADRIANA DIAZ: But back home in Canada, there was some resistance to their cross border work.

BRENT GALE: There was sort of a stigma attached to it.

ADRIANA DIAZ: A stigma?

BRENT GALE: A little bit. You're carrying the disease back and forth. There was a call in our local paper to have us stop being allowed to go back and forth across the border.

LYNDSEY LAFLEUR: I was feeling the stress from the community. People were like, we thank you for all that you do, but at the same time, don't come near me.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Both did contract COVID. Gale when a patient's intubation tube came loose. LaFleur thinks she may have gotten it in Windsor. Luckily, her daughter did not. They recovered and remain committed as ever.

- Handsome.

BRENT GALE: You're awesome. Stop it, you're making me blush.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Still treating their patients with a smile.

There is this perception of Canadians, the Canadian nice stereotype.

BRENT GALE: Yeah.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Is that real, and does that help you at work?

BRENT GALE: I think it's more politeness than nice, and it does help. And we have patients come back all the time. Oh, I'm looking for the big, bald Canadian.

ADRIANA DIAZ: Here, the two sides of the river are one community, and the nurses protect their own.

BRENT GALE: This is our big deal. This is our burning building. This is what we run to and what we've been trained for, our moment to shine.

ADRIANA DIAZ: For "CBS This Morning, Saturday," Adriana Diaz, Detroit.

JEFF GLOR: I grew up just a few miles from the Canadian border, so I know how close that relationship is and how frustrating it's been for so many that the border has been closed for so long. But the work that they're doing there is just remarkable.

MICHELLE MILLER: I love how he said, it's just a line we cross. They're are cousins.

JEFF GLOR: That's right.

- And you see the personal sacrifice. You're reminded of these health care workers' personal sacrifices even as they care for others.

JEFF GLOR: Still doing it today.

- Still doing it today.

MICHELLE MILLER: Yeah, day in and day out. Well, thank you so much, Adriana.