How a Sudbury group home is staying positive during COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers at L'Arche Sudbury's group homes are concerned about spreading the virus, but there are several measures in place, including vigilant hand-washing. Despite their anxieties, the staff is intentionally keeping the atmosphere joyful for the clients.

Despite personal anxiety, staff at L'Arche Sudbury intentionally keeping joyful atmosphere for clients

Core members and assistants at Bethany House in Greater Sudbury work on a banner together. Physical distancing is not possible in group homes where workers provide close care to clients who have different disabilities. (Supplied by Suzanne Thibault)

Staff members who work at group homes for individuals with disabilities have a heavy burden on their shoulders during this COVID-19 pandemic.

That's because it's not possible for them to adhere to physical distancing guidelines as they help individuals within the household with close, personal care.

"Social distancing unfortunately is not a reality in our home," says Suzanne Thibault, an assistant at Bethany House in Greater Sudbury. That is one of three group homes in the city operated by L'Arche Sudbury.

Suzanne Thibault is an assistant at L'Arche Sudbury's Bethany House in Greater Sudbury

"We really share our lives like family — like brothers and sisters, so social distancing within a house when there's 10 to 15 people at any given time in the home, is quite difficult," she said. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Thibault says staff are assigned to just one L'Arche home, to prevent cross-contamination. There are seven to eight staffers who work at each home daily.

"We're a very insular group in our homes."

The workers are all screened before they can enter the home at the start of their shifts.

They're also hyper-vigilant about hand-washing — workers and core members alike. Core members is the term L'Arche uses for the clients who live at its homes.

Thibault calls the possibility of bringing in and spreading the coronavirus into the home a 'huge anxiety' and a 'constant worry.'

"Our core members are not going anywhere, so they're not the ones that are going to bring this into the home. It is us. It's the assistants because we are going out to do our own personal shopping for our families."

This banner hangs outside Bethany House, a group home operated by L'Arche Sudbury. The neighbours have started calling it the hope house. (Supplied by Suzanne Thibault)

Despite their personal anxieties, Thibault says she and her co-workers intentionally try to make the atmosphere in the homes joyful for the core members, and keep the routine as normal as possible.

"As heavy as it may be some days, and as worrisome and as stressful as it may be, the amount of joy and laughter and just real intentional effort to bring some kind of normality and lightness to people's day is overwhelmingly beautiful," she said.

Thibault adds that the reaction to all the changes has been varied among the clients.

"There are core members that understand it better and there are core members that all they know is their routine has been disrupted."

"Right now they're missing their friends, they're missing their employment, they're missing their day programs that they go out to," she said.

Keeping hope that someday this will pass and they'll be able to see their families again and they'll be able to go out into the community [again].- Suzanne Thibault, assistant at L'Arche Sudbury's Bethany House

"That's why it's so important that we provide security in the home and also that we live in joy in the house, as much as we can," Thibault said.

That joy has translated into lots of artwork, including colourful banners around the homes, as well as impromptu dance parties. Thibault says Bethany House on Roy Street has even been included in recent community scavenger hunts, and neighbours have started calling it the house of hope.

"It's talking about keeping hope that someday this will pass and they'll be able to see their families again, and they'll be able to go out into the community and participate in activities and spread the word of L'Arche," she said.

"But for right now, we're kind of just this tiny, little, cozy family within the home."


Angela Gemmill


Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 14 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to


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