Two staff test positive for COVID-19 at Community Living Guelph Wellington

Hanley: 'I really want people to know our staff is incredible ... and we’re working hard to keep people safe'

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Protective measures have tightened up at Community Living Guelph Wellington (CLGW) ever since a state of emergency was declared in mid-March – and certainly since one staff member was diagnosed with COVID-19 on April 8 and a second on April 14.

“It is a worry,” said Laura Hanley, executive director of the agency, in a phone interview on April 15.

“This disease can spread like wildfire. I am so grateful to staff. They have been amazing.”

CLGW supports adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities and currently cares for 156 individuals in group homes.

It also supports 106 individuals living in the community and, under normal circumstances, operates day programs and coordinates work and volunteer opportunities for its clientele.

Hanley said the day programs have been suspended, the individuals living independently are checked on by phone, and staff has been redeployed to the residential program.

That means there have been no layoffs and that’s a pretty good scenario given the overall staffing shortages the sector has experienced for some 18 months.

“Right now, I feel okay with staffing levels,” Hanley said.

But it’s been a fearful time, as several staff were tested and waited to learn their results. And now two staff members are self-isolating at home as they ride out the illness.

It’s also been a hard time on their clients, who can’t help but notice the disruption, she said.

“They have various levels of understanding,” said Hanley.

“Generally, there’s a sense of loss. Some had jobs – those workplaces have closed. Y memberships are closed. Social programs have stopped. Visitor programs have stopped.

“Staff has been creative in finding meaningful activities to fill their day.”

Hanley said they’ve been fundraising to get tablets in the facilities so residents can communicate with their families.

“They rely on phone calls from family and that’s okay if they are verbal,” she said.

“But when they are not, it’s often a one-way conversation. Tablets will allow everyone to see each other and that will be a great comfort.”

The volunteer coordinator is now finding and sharing morale-boosting activities with staff and families who have their adult children with them. They are also sharing lessons-learned with partners in other regions.

Hanley said the situation at Participation House, a group facility for vulnerable adults in Markham, sent shivers down her spine.

That facility declared a state of emergency on April 10, when 37 of their 42 residents and 13 staff tested positive for COVID-19.

At least two residents have subsequently died. While waiting for test results, staff did not show up for work and that left staffing levels critically low over Easter weekend.

“It’s so sad. I can’t imagine that scenario,” Hanley said. “You can really see how fast [COVID-19] travels. And [the situation] really shines a light on developmental services and the challenges we face.”

There’s a blog on the agency website where Hanley has been forthcoming about the situation at CLGW, the suspected cases of COVID-19 among staff, and the eventual confirmation.

“I believe in being transparent,” she said. “I would rather give people information and then they know. Because without facts, it’s too easy for misinformation to spread.

“I really want people to know our staff is incredible, we’re here, and we’re working hard to keep people safe.”