By: Mike Anderson
Earlier this week a male resident with COVID-19 left his group home unescorted to visit his mother in Toronto.
The resident, in his early 30s, lives at New Leaf’s Farmhouse in Queensville, a group home for people with intellectual disabilities.
Although he was later found and returned to the facility, public health investigators are tracing his close contacts, according to Patrick Casey, Director, Corporate Communications for York Region.
New Leaf Executive Director Ron McCauley would not confirm or deny the incident occurred due to privacy concerns.
But he said the group home cannot enforce a quarantine.
“We do not have a legal right to confine people. We operate a residential setting, not a penal setting,” he said.
“The people we support have an intellectual disability, but they are not criminals. Having said this, we do recognize that we have a duty of care toward the people we support.”
“If a person leaves our care and we believe that they may be at risk to themselves or the community we act so that the person is safely dealt with by staff and safely returned to our residence,” he added.
“If we do not immediately know where the person is we conduct searches and notify the police who assist in locating the missing person.”
Mr. McCauley also said that duty of care extends to the community.
“If a person who is COVID-19 positive were to leave one of our residences, we would immediately contact the police regarding his/her status, and we would follow up with a report to the York Region Health Unit.”
Managing residents who become infected is just one of the many challenges facing group homes during this pandemic.
Group homes no longer allow their staff to work at multiple sites, this has caused staffing shortages at some locations and existing staff are working longer hours, in some cases more than 60 hours a week.
Another is the alarming shortage of PPE, with some local group homes reporting that they have less than seven days supply.
As of publishing, four group homes in Georgina are now reporting COVID-19 outbreaks, according to York Region Public Health.
One of the first outbreaks occured at a Pefferlaw group home operated by Kerry’s Place Autism Service.
Located near Old Homestead Rd and Park Rd, the group home has a total of 11 COVID-19 cases; two residents, and nine staff members are infected.
“The two residents are currently in isolation, with no symptoms, and are under the care and support of our dedicated staff,” said Susan VanDeVelde-Coke, CEO and President of Kerry’s Place Autism Services.
“Our staff members are also in isolation in their own homes. We are following the protocols for positive cases, as informed by York Region Public Health, which we expect will be ongoing for another two weeks.”
New Leaf’s Sycamore House, located in Egypt, has also experienced a significant outbreak, with four residents and seven staff members testing positive for COVID-19.
In Upper Keswick, the Christian Horizon’s group home has one staff member infected.
And, in Jackson’s Point, Halsey Lodge is reporting one resident tested positive for the virus.
Georgina’s group homes now account for 24 cases, most of the active COVID-19 cases in the municipality, according to York Region Public Health.
As of posting, none of Georgina’s long-term homes have reported a positive case.
As to why group homes have been particularly affected, Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, offered this explanation in his video update on April 20.
“Group homes do not have the same culture of infection prevention and control that long-term care and retirement homes have,” Dr. Kurji said.
“So we have been asking them to screen their visitors and staff at entry, and we have been asking them to monitor the residents twice daily. We have also been asking their staff to be wearing masks at all times.”
The POST spoke to the directors of three group homes in Georgina, all wanted to assure the public that significant steps were taken before the outbreaks to ensure the safety of their residents and staff.
However, most directors acknowledged that the scarcity of PPE is an ongoing issue; some have even issued open requests to the community to donate unused PPE.
York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson and his constituency office in Holland Landing have been actively sourcing and delivering PPE to various long-term care and community care settings throughout his riding, including Georgina Community Living, who recently reached out to him for help.
Mr. Davidson blames the federal government for not living up to its responsibility to provide adequate stocks of PPE for provincial governments.
He also wants the federal government to enact elements of the Emergency Act to ensure resources are directed to protect our most vulnerable populations.
And he’s insisting that parliament sits more than a once-a-week, to provide proper parliamentary oversight.
“We knew that this global pandemic was going to affect the vulnerable the most. It wasn’t like, you know, yesterday, we just found this out,” he said.
“We knew it affected people over the age of 80, especially in long-term care homes, and residents in group homes. There had to be a federal plan out of the gate to deal with this, and that just hasn’t happened.”
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