Ronda Felder’s mission in life was clear: To help and house as many children without homes as possible. In that she succeeded, having raised 25 kids in her home while working as a social worker, the last five years of which were for the County of San Diego.
And while Felder died doing what she loved most, the pain and heartache for those she left behind is palpable.
Months after returning to fieldwork for the county of San Diego, Felder, 60, contracted COVID-19. After staying for nearly a month in the hospital, she later died.
Felder’s death shows the difficulties that essential workers such as the county’s social workers face during the pandemic.
NBC 7 Investigates first reported concerns from county social workers in May weeks after the county decided to resume field visits.
As one social worker told NBC 7 in May 2020, investigating child abuse can’t be done during a telephone or video call.
Now, with Felder’s death, their warnings have been validated.
“You cannot see marks and bruises on a video conference,” said Lisa Garcia, a county social worker. “I had to pick the safety of my work family over mine.”
But Felder’s daughter, Treasure, says that while her mom was initially concerned, she felt it was important to keep visiting the children.
Weeks later, Treasure said her mom came down with a high fever and chills. On July 4, she was admitted to the hospital, where she remained until her death a month later.
And although her mom loved what she did, Treasure Felder says the county should have taken precautions to make sure she was safe.
“My mom lived with no fear,” said Treasure Felder. “I told my mom I was worried, and she told me not to worry. She felt the kids were more important.”
But Felder says the county did not appear to show that her mom’s life was equally as important.
“All of her (personal protection equipment) she had to buy on her own,” said Felder. “For a person to go out into this world and do their best to save other people, we have to do our best to protect them. The county should be providing social workers enough PPE for them and to pass along to the families they visit.”
Felder says her mom’s life and death should be remembered for a number of reasons.
At age 50, after raising over two dozen children, Ronda Felder decided to get her degree in social work. All the while she volunteered with foster children in the community.
“My mother wasn’t just a social worker, she was an angel on Earth who did social work,” said Treasure. “She loved her job. Even on days where she wasn’t working, she was somewhat working.”
Felder says much more could have been done to not only prevent her mom’s death but the deaths of so many of those who've died from COVID-19.
“The strongest people in my life are broken and it didn’t have to happen this way,” said Treasure Felder as she wept for her mother. “We should have shut down. We should have not opened up. There are people that are going to receive this pain that I feel right now because of the lack of education and the lack of restrictions.”