VANCOUVER -- It’s the toughest job she’s ever had.

And when the pandemic hit, “Maria,” who works as a security guard in the emergency room at St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver, said her stress and the risk on the job both skyrocketed.

“Sometimes (patients) would spit. Sometimes they would bite. Sometimes they would try to rip the mask off your face,” she said.

CTV News has agreed not to identify Maria (not her real name), who works for Burnaby-based Paladin Security, because she worries she could face repercussions for speaking publicly.

Maria said she makes just over $16 an hour and works 12-hour shifts. She said the pay “doesn’t reflect the amount of work we put in.”

So when Paladin Security notified its hospital security guards in March they would be receiving a $3 an hour temporary increase – apparently to reflect, in part, the increased risk its employees face – and called it a “COVID Bonus,” Maria was elated.

“It’s great the company is supporting us … They acknowledged how stressful these weeks have been,” Maria remembered.

Less than two months later, the province announced its own temporary pandemic program for 250,000-plus eligible front-line workers, including hospital security guards.

Maria was thrilled.

“We were being included amongst the nurses and doctors being seen as part of a critical care team,” she said.

That excitement slowly dissolved into disappointment when the $4 an hour boost from the province, which the government indicated would run for 16 weeks of work and be paid as a lump sum, never materialized.

And it turned into disillusionment when Maria received another letter in late July from Paladin Security’s president, Chad Kalyk.

The letter explained that health-care security guards like Maria, of which Paladin said it employs roughly 800 across B.C., wouldn’t be getting the funds from the province.

Instead, Kalyk wrote, the company would provide a “top up” of $1 an hour.

Paladin also ended its own COVID Bonus program.

Maria said she felt demoralized.

“The company was going to be hanging onto the government’s money to pay themselves back,” Maria said.

“We were all shocked. We thought were would be getting both,” she added.

Company calls it a miscommunication

Kalyk declined a CTV News request for an on-camera interview, but provided an extensive statement.

“We did not hide our intent to use government funding to aid us in the payment of this incentive,” Kalyk wrote, in part.

“In hindsight, our messaging could have been more transparent in our belief that government funding would assist us with this incentive pay,” he wrote.

Kalyk’s first letter to employees, dated March 25, makes no mention of any indication of forthcoming provincial funding, which was publicly announced May 19.

Kalyk said that’s because the company wanted to prioritize the announcement about the pay itself, rather than the source of the funding.

In his statement to CTV News, he went on to write:

“We care deeply about our people and in no way tried to mislead anyone.”

“Our core healthcare workers have received more money than they would have if they had solely received the government’s temporary pandemic pay incentive,” Kalyk added.

Maria said she wanted to ask Kalyk to “reconsider or negotiate a bit of a compromise,” and while Kalyk told CTV News he promised dialogue with his employees, he did not make any financial commitments.

Province will audit employers, won’t comment directly on case

When CTV News reached out to the Ministry of Finance, which oversees the province’s temporary pandemic pay program, to raise Maria’s case, the ministry would not directly comment.

Instead, the ministry told CTV News the program intends that every dollar go directly to eligible employees.

It also turns out the temporary pay, which was announced in May, hasn’t been distributed.

The ministry said the payments should begin flowing “in the fall,” and said it was coordinating with multiple ministry funders and hundreds of service providers.

When CTV News asked whether Paladin’s handling of its own bonus and its intentions for the forthcoming provincial program’s funds was appropriate, a ministry spokesperson wrote:

“Accountability measures and expectations will be communicated to employers … funders will have the ability to audit employers to ensure the funds provided were used for the purposes established by the province.”

Maria likely won’t be around to see if there’s a chance she might receive any of the money.

Instead, she says, she’ll be leaving a job she calls both extremely stressful and highly rewarding behind, and moving on to the next step of her career.

She said she will still worry about her colleagues at St. Paul’s.

“It can be physically very demanding and dangerous,” she said. “It takes an emotional toll for sure.”