COVID-19 outbreak in Markham, Ontario, group home for the disabled becomes fatal

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A massive epidemic of COVID-19 that made all but five residents of a group home for the disabled sick, became fatal.

The family of resident Martin Frogley says he died early this morning in a hospital in Markham, Ontario.

A family statement says he “passed by peacefully” while listening to music he loved.

Frogley was one of 42 people with physical or intellectual disabilities living at Participation House, an establishment where a major epidemic of the new coronavirus has caused chaos in recent days.

Markham Stouffville Hospital, which helps the home, says that 37 of the 42 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 13 staff members are also infected.

Most workers stopped working last week, a situation the union representing them attributed to an increasing number of positive tests and public health advisories advising them to stay away from the establishment.

Frogley’s family did not comment on the situation at Participation House, reflecting only on his memory while asking for privacy while they mourned his death.

“He was a wonderful son, uncle and the best brother you could ask for,” the family said in a statement.

They thanked the staff at Participation House for what they described as “exceptional care”, as well as the hospital staff who cared for him in his final days.

Earlier this week, Participation House executive director Shelley Brillinger said a resident was taken to hospital this weekend. She said at the time that he was “holding on,” but gave no further details.

The staffing shortage, which sparked calls for help from municipal and provincial politicians and prompted former federal Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Philpott, to begin providing home medical care, has begun last week when the outbreak was first announced.

At that time, at least 10 residents and two staff members were confirmed positive for COVID-19.

It has been widely reported that the ensuing shortage was caused by employees leaving their jobs, but the union representing the staff at Participation House said the situation was rather due to employees following widely recommended public health advice.

Tom Galivan, secretary-treasurer of Local 2 of the International Union of Service Employees, said the house had been experiencing staff shortages for months before the pandemic. On Thursday, he said staff had learned that positive cases had surfaced among residents and that they had been advised to get tested immediately.

“The current personnel challenges arise from the fact that 30% of the workforce has achieved positive results or is awaiting test results,” he said, noting that public health authorities have informed those likely to be exposed to COVID-19 to isolate themselves at once.

Galivan said another large number of staff had previously worked in several long-term care facilities to make ends meet, but were advised to stay in one workplace to curb the spread of the virus. Premier Doug Ford announced a similar move on Wednesday.

Since last week, the epidemic has spread to 27 more residents and 11 more employees, a development the house has described as “very upsetting.”

“Our thoughts are with residents and their families in the face of this challenge,” said Brillinger in a statement released on Tuesday. “I want to reassure our residents and their families that, with the support of the hospital, we are providing the necessary care.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on long-term care homes across the country, and Ontario is no exception. At least 98 establishments have reported outbreaks, and the 145 deaths in these homes represent nearly 40% of the 385 total deaths in the province to date.

The dire situation prompted Ford to recognize the shortcomings of the province’s long-term care system by announcing emergency measures to deal with the outbreaks in these centers.

“There are cracks,” said Ford after announcing additional tests and infection control measures. “We have to raise the standards … This is a wake-up call for the world, not just for Ontario.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 15, 2020.

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