“I am working as much as I can because the clients need us,” Workers going Non-Stop Following COVID-19 Outbreak at Participation House
TORONTO, April 15, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — After months of inadequate Government action in containing the COVID-19 virus, Participation House Markham is reeling from a devastating COVID-19 outbreak. Staff numbers are low after more than twenty have been forced to self-quarantine while recovering from the virus or awaiting test results.
Don Wilson has worked for Participation House for thirty-three years. He says: “I am working as much as I can because the clients need us, and we’re doing whatever we can for them. If my brothers and sisters could be here, they would. They did the right thing, they got tested, but they caught the virus.” Despite the trying circumstances, remaining staff like Wilson are dedicated to serving the residents of Participation House. Wilson, 58-years-old, has been working every day from 9:00 am or 9:30 am until 11:30 pm.On April 9th Participation House announced a COVID-19 outbreak to staff and informed them that they could self-quarantine. Many staff, particularly those who are elderly or have vulnerable individuals at home, understood this as permission to leave to follow the testing and self-quarantining directions as laid out by the Government of Ontario. There was no walkout or job action by SEIU Local 2 members. The numbers have quickly escalated in just a few days. Now thirty-seven of the forty-two residents have been infected with COVID-19, one of whom has tragically succumbed to the illness. Thirteen staff have also tested positive. After initially retiring, Yvonne Dixon returned to work. She has been with Participation House for the last six years. She is immunocompromised and was told directly by the Participation House management to leave. She says: “Many people stayed – others went across the street to the hospital to get tested. When you get tested, Public Health tells you to self-isolate and wait for the test results. We cannot go back to work while we wait.” The outbreak at Participation House is tragic but was preventable. The Government has only recently announced that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is mandatory in long-term care centers. Prior to that, masks were only required after a confirmed case. While it’s not clear if the same policy applies to assisted living facilities such as Participation House, the management has confirmed that there are now adequate supplies of PPE, including masks, at the facility. The government should have mandated the use of PPE in long-term care homes and assisted living facilities in February when it was evident asymptomatic persons can transmit the virus. Instead, the Government sat on its hands while the virus spread to our most vulnerable and front-line workers. The Government’s lack of decisive action on PPE set the stage for this outbreak and the resulting staff shortages.Ivy Albania, 38, has been working at Participation House for four years: “I was working as much as I could, I was working sixteen hours straight so that the clients had someone.” Albania laments: “For weeks we were asking for masks and PPE but were told it was not a ministry requirement.” SEIU Local 2 and the management at Participation House have been working together to roll out new work protocols to quickly ameliorate the situation and address staffing shortages. These include: Wage rates for Participation House staff to be doubled for the duration of the outbreak. Staff who are concerned that they will expose members of their household to the virus to be offered accommodation at hotels. Staff who need assistance in getting to and from the workplace to be provided taxi vouchers to assist them. New protocols will be implemented to limit access to certain work areas to essential staff. The management has confirmed that adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including masks, is being supplied. We have also been in contact with the Ministry of Children, Community, Social Services in an effort to expedite COVID-19 test results for workers at Participation House.We will continue to work closely with our members, Participation House management, and the Government to ensure that resident care will continue while protecting the health and safety of workers and their families.Assya Moustaqim-Barrette