Toronto

Ontario home for adults with disabilities pledges action after staff walk out over COVID-19

The union representing employees at a facility for adults with developmental and physical disabilities in Markham, Ont., says it’s working with management to address staffing shortages at the facility after dozens of staff walked out amid an outbreak of COVID-19.

Participation House was left with only four staff members after most walked away over COVID-19 fears

Participation House in Markham says the majority of residents and some staff members have been diagnosed with COVID-19. (Simon Dingley/CBC)

The union representing employees at a facility for adults with developmental and physical disabilities in Markham, Ont., says it's working with management to address staffing shortages at the facility after dozens of staff walked out amid an outbreak of COVID-19.

Participation House, near Highway 7 and Ninth Line, issued an urgent call for more staff and supplies after the walkout.

On Saturday, Services Employees International Union Local 2 said several measures have been taken following the confirmation that some staff and residents at the facility tested positive for COVID-19. 

"Wage rates for Participation House staff will be doubled for the duration of the outbreak," secretary treasurer Tom Galivan wrote in a statement.

"Staff who are concerned that they will expose members of their household to the virus will be offered accommodation at hotels."

The union said other measures include:

  • Staff who need assistance in getting to and from the workplace will be provided taxi vouchers.
  • New protocols will be implemented to limit access to certain work areas such as food preparation areas to essential staff.
  • The union and management have confirmed that there are adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.
  • The union is engaging its membership and encouraging employees of Participation House to take on additional shifts.

Working to ensure staffing coverage

Participation House also issued a statement on Saturday in which it said it is "actively working to ensure we have staffing coverage for specialized positions including nurses, personal support workers, and food services."

"We continue to welcome applications from the community for these positions," the statement reads. 

Shelley Brillinger, Participation House's executive director, said staff at the facility has been dwindling for weeks as people stayed home to care for loved ones or protect themselves from COVID-19.

She said that when she told employees Thursday that 10 residents and two staff members at the 42-resident home had tested positive for COVID-19, nearly everyone refused to keep working.

"There was an audible scream in the room, and some gasps, and people were just devastated," Brillinger said.

Soon after, she said, she learned that all but four of the workers were walking away from their duties. Typically, she said, 35 people work at the facility in a 24-hour time-frame.

Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser said on Twitter that she visited Participation House on Saturday to visit with the staff.

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