Queens, NY – Dr. Yves Roseus, a Haitian-American immigrant, occupational therapist and 1199 SEIU member, died from COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic — but he lived as the embodiment of the American Dream.
The otherwise healthy 66-year-old was the son of an illiterate small farmer in Port-au-Prince who always taught him the importance of pursuing an education, hard work, morals and how to carry himself.
When he wanted to leave the farm for more opportunities in America, his father hosted U.S. soldiers stationed in Haiti and used the funds to buy his son a plane ticket.
In 1975, Dr. Roseus came to the U.S. and worked as a taxi driver as he pursued his associate’s degree in electrical technology at Kingsborough Community College. He later went on to earn a Bachelor’s of Science at York College (1999) in occupational therapy.
“At the age of 22 he left Haiti, he left my older brother who was six-months-old and everything he knew behind to come to the United States,” says son Leonard Roseus — a fellow 1199 SEIU member and patient navigator at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Roseus’ father became an occupational therapist at Brookdale Hospital in 1999. He later obtained a dual Master’s and Doctorate’s degree (2011) at Rocky Mountain University in Occupational Therapy.
As Roseus’ father pursued his higher education, he also became a union delegate for 1199 SEIU for its Health and Safety, Labor Management and Jobs committees.
“Every year he would be the one to organize the health fair,” Leonard says. “He was a fully active member of 1199. When it came time to go to Albany to fight against health cuts, he was galvanizing the members, ordering buses and making sure there was food for everyone. He was very close to the management at the Brookdale facility.”
Dr. Roseus was a spiritual man, serving as a pastor at churches in both L.I. and Queens. He also served as a Safety Board Chair at Brookdale Hospital (2014-2020) and worked as an adjunct professor at Long Island University (2014); Hofstra University (2016) and his alma mater, York College (2018-2020). He was also a part of the Accreditation Council of Occupational Therapy Education at York. Dr. Roseus was further enrolled at the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education, and served on the Black Occupational Therapist Caucus, as well as a board member and trustee at the New York State Occupational Therapy Association.
“York College has a scholarship that they are running in his name that a field of professors and students started,” Leonard says. “My father was always a big proponent for learning and bettering yourself. Without an education, there is a limit to what you can do, with an education you can always push the limit.”
Leonard Roseus takes solace in learning that his father is still helping people after his passing.
Dr. Roseus’ last dream was to open up an occupational therapy training facility in conjunction with Brookdale Hospital in his hometown of Port-au-Prince. Political unrest in Haiti, however, forced him to remain in the U.S. where he continued to care patients until he became ill on March 27. He died on April 5.
“I’ve been told that Brookdale will keep its partnership with the New York State Occupational Therapy Association and it will be completed,” Leonard says. “Whatever I can do, I will be of help.”
Like many other frontline workers concerned with health and safety, Leonard wants to help raise awareness about COVID-19 among those who still take the threat too lightly.
“I would like to say that I wasn’t too far removed from these people at first,” he says. “I never assumed it could take my father’s life.” According to Leonard, the only underlying condition his late father suffered was occasional acid reflux. “It’s a shock. If you want two weeks to change your life forever, then continue listening to people who don’t trust science. You listen to science for everything else. Why are you afraid to trust science now?”