Home for disabled residents at centre of staff walkout report 12 COVID-19 cases

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The executive director of a group home for people with disabilities says the number of positive COVID-19 cases at the facility continues to climb.

Shelley Brillinger says 12 of the 40 residents currently living at Participation House in Markham, Ont., have been diagnosed with the virus, as well as six employees.

Brillinger says staffing levels are still critically low after all but a handful of workers walked off the job on Friday.

Municipal and provincial politicians have since been raising awareness of the shortage, which they say leaves the home's physically and intellectually disabled residents without the critical care they need.

Brillinger says the home has received support from a local hospital, several volunteers, and former federal health minister Dr. Jane Philpott, who is currently providing medical care at the home.

But Brillinger says the situation at Participation House is still very serious, noting even regular staffing levels won't be enough to keep up with the demands of an active outbreak.

"Clearly, as people become ill, we're going to need to operate almost like a small hospital over here to be able to provide the level of care that will be required," Brillinger told a press conference on Monday.

Brillinger said a regular shift at Participation House usually sees eight personal support workers and one nurse caring for residents. Just two PSWs and one additional nurse were on-hand on Monday afternoon, she said, noting the ideal staffing level at the moment would be closer to 12.

Brillinger said one of the residents who tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus is currently in hospital and "holding his own." She said the home is currently waiting for the results of additional COVID-19 tests and expects the results in the coming days.

Philpott, for her part, said she expects the number of cases at the home to climb.

The former health minister said she's been working on the front lines since the pandemic took hold in Canada, reactivating the hospital privileges that got set aside during her term as member of parliament for the Markham area.

Philpott said she's helping to provide medical care at Participation House during the staffing shortage.

"I've been involved at the policy level and really enjoyed that work, but at the moment the place that I can be the most helpful is to use my clinical skills," she said. "This is a really vulnerable population that makes up the residents of Participation House, and we need to make sure that they get the best possible care."

Brillinger said working conditions at the home are safe and management has been in touch with the union representing Participation House staff. The Service Employees International Union local 2 did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford thanked Philpott for re-donning medical scrubs during his regular COVID-19 news conference, describing the situation at Participation House as 'heart-breaking."

He said the province is willing to help ensure the home is properly equipped to handle the outbreak.

"It's not fair to the few people there trying to take care of everyone," he said. "And especially the people who are living there, it's just not fair."

Ford redoubled his call for comprehensive testing of all staff and residents at Ontario's long-term care facilities. The province has pledged to start processing up to 16,000 COVID-19 tests per day, or quadruple the current capacity, by early next month.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

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