GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4)– The family of a 78-year-old JBS employee who died due to COVID-19 believes the company didn’t take proper action to protect employees from the virus. Saul Sanchez was the first employee at the plant to die. Tibursio River Lopez, 69, and Conchas de la Cruz, 60, also died and more than 30 employees at the meat processing plant have tested positive for coronavirus.
“My dad was amazing, humble and hardworking individual who loved people and loved sports. But, most of all, he loved being with his family. He was the heart of the family,” said Beatrice Rangel, Sanchez’s daughter.
“My father should still be here, if (JBS) would’ve right away, done what they needed to do,” said Patty Rangel, Sanchez’s daughter.
The outbreak at the processing plant has required state officials, and even The White House, to weigh in on the concerns raised by staff. Sanchez’s family said they learned the virus was first making its way in to the Greeley plant in early March. However, her father, and more than 6,000 other employees, continued to work. Sanchez came home from work in late March with an illness. Patty Rangel told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas her father stopped eating and was very lethargic.
As a registered nurse, Patty asked her family members to monitor him and take his temperature.
“It was 102. And, I said take him straight to an emergency room,” Patty said. “The doctors said he has all the symptoms of COVID.”
Patty Rangel said her job requires her to interact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19 every day.
“I never imagined it would be my father,” Patty said.
Sanchez’s condition deteriorated as treatment continued. Access to oxygen and medications did not help. Eventually doctors were forced to place him on a ventilator.
“I knew, at that point, that was it,” Patty said.
Because her father was in the same hospital she works in, Patty was able to be in the room when he passed away. Most patients are forced to weather the storm alone, as the hospitals try to limit exposure to the virus.
Patty was able to call her family members via Facetime, including her mother, so they could say goodbye to Sanchez.
“(Doctors) shut the ventilator off and we watched as he passed,” Patty said.
“I never thought that would be the way I would say goodbye to my dad,” Beatrice said.
Patty and Beatrice said their father stayed loyal to his employer, even after they encouraged him to retire.
“We would tell him, ‘It’s not going to shut down if you are not there. Obviously.’ And, he would say, ‘No, they need me, they are short staffed,'” Beatrice said.
Upon reflection, Sanchez’s family accused the company of failing to value an employee of 30 years as much as he valued the company.
JBS issued a statement to CBS4 on Friday, saying they were working to secure personal protective equipment for their employees. The statement also said the company was shutting down temporarily during Easter weekend to clean the facility, while also preparing to spend more than $1 million to secure enough testing for their entire staff. Staff members will also be required to have their temperatures taken before working.
Sanchez’s family said they didn’t want the company to close, or stop production. However, in honor of their father, they hoped the company would take the necessary steps to protect those who rely on the business to provide for their families.
“If there are no employees, there is no company,” Beatrice said.
“Get the workers the proper protection equipment they need. Because, so many more people are going to get infected,” Patty said.
The Sanchez family said a sympathy card was delivered to their home by a company employee. They said the company promised to have a representative reach out to them, however at the time of this article’s publishing the company had failed to do so.
“I (am speaking out) to honor my dad. If we can help save some of the employees that are still working there, then we have done our job,” Beatrice said.
In honor of Sanchez’s life, the family asked for people to make donations to foundations that help battle cancer.