August 10, 2020
Lisa Fernandes Finalist

Lisa Fernandes is a proud PSW

St. Thomas Personal Support Worker goes above and beyond for long term care residents

Landscape Ontario has received over a thousand stories of friends, neighbours and family members who have helped to improve the lives of those in their community throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, we are excited to announce the 10 amazing frontline heroes who will receive the garden makeovers! Read the incredible stories of dedication, selflessness and compassion at and stay tuned to Landscape Ontario this fall and into spring 2021 to see the finished garden makeovers!

Meet all 10 frontline heroes

Lisa Fernandes is a born caregiver, and her passion for helping people shines. 

Fernandes is a Personal Support Worker (PSW) at Caressant Care Mary Bucke in St. Thomas, Ont., — a place she calls her second home. To Fernandes, her colleagues and residents are family.

“We are a big family in our very small home,” Fernandes says. “We are very protective of our family at Mary Bucke." Fernandes recalls the day a younger coworker called her up and was in tears: “My parents are concerned about the spread of the virus and worried I could bring Covid home from work,” the coworker explained. The solution: "She moved in with me, and was with me for four months," Fernandes explains. "It was an experience for me, because I’ve had two sons, so it was a learning curve, but she and I kept each other strong and safe. We made sure we did everything we possibly could to protect our family at Mary Bucke. We went grocery shopping once a month and got everything we would need. We washed everything down. We were so scared we would lose one of our residents, one of our family members.”

Fernandes says Covid-19 flipped their world upside down, but it also brought her, her colleagues and residents closer together than ever before.

woman in her garden

Always there for Mary Bucke residents

“As PSWs, we become our resident’s family. We have been the shoulder to cry on, the hand to hold, and someone to hug. And we can’t do that if we don’t think we’re safe. So we have all done everything, inside and outside of work, as diligently as we could to protect our family. We are a very, very strong unit of PSWs at Mary Bucke. And I absolutely can’t say I have done anything by myself. Our team has stuck together and supported one another.”

Mary Bucke has been fortunate, in that no residents or staff have tested positive for Covid-19. However, the fear of an outbreak has caused both staff and residents a great deal of anxiety.

“All of a sudden, no family members could come to visit,” Fernandes said. “It was heartbreaking. So we were already their family, with them every single day, but then all of a sudden, our role changed.”

Fernandes remembers one emotional moment with a resident that stands out. 

“One resident said to me, ‘Lisa, I want you to meet my daughter.’ Her daughter was finally able to come back into the home, and she was so excited. But I told her, ‘Be careful, make sure you social distance and you don’t hug and kiss her.’ And she said, ‘Lisa, this isn’t right, I can’t even touch my daughter?’”

Fernandes stepped in to provide the affection and love residents missed during the worst months of the pandemic. Her passion for her career is evident within minutes of chatting. Fernandes says she loves her career, and gives “150 per cent” every day she’s at Mary Bucke. She is proud to be a PSW, and says she was horrified when she saw reports out of Quebec of long term care homes and their residents being abandoned by caregivers.

“I was heartbroken to see those homes in such bad shape,” Fernandes said. “For a moment, I was embarrassed to be a PSW. But then I thought about it, and said to myself, 'No. You need to be proud to be a PSW because you give your heart and soul to your career and the 60 residents at Mary Bucke.'”

Dedicating her life to her children

Before her career as a PSW, Fernandes raised two boys and also served as a foster parent for the Children's Aid Society of London and Middlesex.

With two young boys at home, Fernandes and her husband adopted a five month old boy named Jeffrey. 

Jeffrey had cerebral palsy, and his care needs were very high. Fernandes and her family supported him with love for nearly eight years, until he passed away a week before his eighth birthday. 

“Jeffrey was a very special boy and he touched people’s lives," Fernandes said. “We loved him with everything we had, and I know the experience made my sons so strong and so caring. I believe it shaped them to become caregivers, just like their mom.”

Later, Fernandes received a phone call from an agency in London. “They called and asked, ‘Lisa, we have a little girl who needs a home and she has cancer, can you help?'”

“I said, 'Yes, absolutely,'” Fernandes remembers. “Leah was three and unfortunately we lost her when she was just four years old from leukemia.”

Looking back on the heartbreaking tragedy, Fernandes focuses on the positives.

“Leah had the best year ever,” she said. “She got to go trick or treating, and she had Christmas with our family with presents, and I don’t want people to feel sorry for her or Jeffrey because they were in a home where they were loved.”

Now, when she needs to unwind after a day at work, she retreats to what she calls her secret garden.

“I have a space in my backyard, that is just for me,” Fernandes says. “It’s the one place on the property where the dogs (Bruno and Sasha, Italian Mastiff/Boxers) aren’t allowed, and I love it. There are tall trees behind the backyard and while my landscape is a work in progress, the surroundings bring me peace and tranquility.”

woman gardening as two dogs look onLisa Fernandes in her garden with Bruno and Sasha