Learning lessons

By Jenn Watt

“We are not asked for our ideas and input on what could be done” “Organization seemed to be hiding behind insurance coverage” “Overwhelmed trying to meet the needs of 30 people undergoing a major change in their lives” “A basic necessity – roof over family members heads – was neglected” “Feel reimbursement was promised and not delivered” “Very traumatic event and seems like there was very little management of the trauma” – those were just a few of the many negative comments listed in the draft action plan released by Haliburton Highlands Health Services last week.

The plan is a first step in addressing concerns and complaints that arose from the nearly four-month evacuation of Highland Wood long-term care home from February to June of 2019. More than 30 people representing staff management family members of residents and one resident of Highland Wood participated in focus groups with a third-party facilitator in December to debrief about what was a deeply distressing time for many involved.

Most in the community will be familiar with what happened at Highland Wood: a roof leak discovered in early February led to the evacuation of the home which is attached to the Haliburton hospital. Examination of the leak found that it was unsafe for residents to move back in until the roof had been replaced and since the leak happened during a particularly bad winter the replacement wasn’t complete until May with residents back on June 3.

During that time rumours swirled about the state of the roof and the handling of the evacuation. Families of residents were justifiably upset that their loved ones were being moved far from their previous home. There was confusion over transportation services and reimbursement for families’ expenses. Staff didn’t feel supported families didn’t feel informed everyone was worried for the health and wellbeing of Highland Wood’s residents.

This action plan exposes many of those rumours and addresses them. Likely it will not be enough for some people who are still working to move forward from a very difficult time. However the document is refreshingly honest and includes concrete steps to be taken to begin to set things right.
Among next steps: developing a more robust plan that vastly improves communications that advocates for change in procedure and that provides better support for those who have experienced trauma.

The best thing anyone can do when things go wrong is to examine the issues learn lessons and work to make amends. The HHHS action plan seeks to begin that process but it is only the first step. What comes next may be even more difficult as plans are put into action and the corporation seeks to address deeply felt pain and lingering mistrust.