Highland Wood evacuation leaves family with questions

By Sue Tiffin

Published Feb. 26 2019

Gord Schmidt is clear about where his frustration lies.

It’s not with the front line staff or the physicians who are involved in the care of his 88-year-old father a resident at Highland Wood who was relocated alongside 27 other residents following the discovery of significant leaks in the facility’s roof two weeks ago. Instead he wants to know how the situation was able to happen and said it shouldn’t happen again to any facility.

“In the end you know they’ve got Dad in a safe place” said Schmidt. “That part is good. I guess my concern is that it’s too bad it happened in the first place.”

The situation at the long-term care facility in Haliburton was first noted in a press release on Feb. 6 from Haliburton Highlands Health Services CEO Carolyn Plummer who said leaks in the roof would result in some residents moving to other parts of the building and to neighbouring long-term care facilities. Later that same day outside experts conducted a detailed inspection of the roof and determined a full evacuation would need to occur. The next day in a press release Plummer said leaks were extensive occurring in multiple areas and were a result of melting ice and snow that had built up on the roof which was scheduled to be replaced this spring.

“Unfortunately the extreme fluctuations in temperatures and weather conditions over the late fall and into the winter led to an excessive build up of ice on the roof and then a sudden melt which led to the steps taken … to safely evacuate and relocate residents to other facilities” announces a recorded voice on the HHHS hotline established as a result of the situation. Residents have been moved to locations within the northeast part of the Central East LHIN according to Plummer and some family members have said residents were relocated to care homes in Lindsay and Orillia.

HHHS has arranged to have counselling services available to family members of Highland Wood residents to help provide support during the evacuation. Additionally HHHS is offering free transportation for family members of residents to their temporary place of residence with pick-up and drop-off at Highland Wood. A meeting for family members of residents on Feb. 20 was arranged to offer a chance for family to ask questions. Schmidt said he couldn’t attend that meeting but had been following updates using the hotline and had been in conversation with the LHIN.

Schmidt moved to the area to support his parents who have cottaged here since the early ’60s and retired into a house they built in the ’90s. After a diagnosis of dementia his dad a former construction manager in Toronto spent a year at the hospital while on the wait list for long term care placement and moved in to Highland Wood last September.

“Thank God he finally got in [and it] was one of the local homes which is what I wanted” said Schmidt. “Now he’s exactly where I didn’t want him which is way out of the county.”

Representatives from Highland Wood called right away to say that Schmidt’s dad’s room was one of the initial rooms where a leak had occurred and that he would have to be relocated within the building. They then called to say that the extent of the leaks was resulting in residents being evacuated.

On moving day Schmidt’s father who is a high fall risk patient fell according to a phone call from staff received by Schmidt. When his dad got to Hyland Crest in Minden Schmidt said he was called due to another fall in which there was potential for his dad to have fractured his hip. In the transfer to the care home in Lindsay Schmidt’s dad fell again requiring nine stitches.

Schmidt said he was initially angry and worried that his dad would require use of a wheelchair due to the falls but has since calmed down knowing that his dad has not had further incidents since his move to Lindsay. Still he said the situation could have been worse.

“He had the falls [and] he didn’t fracture his hip” said Schmidt. “But let’s just say he had’ve all this would have come about because this roof was allowed to let go. And then it forced all the residents to move out. My thinking is preventative maintenance. It’s like a car – we can’t drive cars forever without eventually getting a new set of tires or taking it into the mechanic to get a tune-up.”

With a background in construction he said that flat roofs have a known life expectancy and he’s surprised a roof leak of this magnitude could have been allowed to happen.

“I guess what I’m a little peeved about is somewhere at the top of the corporate ladder somewhere somebody made the decision to postpone fixing this roof before it got to this point” he said. “…I understand if you’re running a company whether it’s a nursing home or any company there’s always a bottom line to worry about but you know whether it’s a house or a building if the roof doesn’t function the rest of the building is at risk right? To me that should have been a priority. I really wish it hadn’t happened. It’s great that they’re binding together now and the community has their support and I love that part I think it’s great but again whoever made that decision is quietly sitting back. I haven’t heard that this board or this person made this decision.”

Schmidt said families were being assured that Highland Wood residents would have relocation priority back to the long-term care facility when the roof repairs are completed.

“In 2017 as part of our capital program we had both our hospital and long-term care home physical facilities including the roofs assessed by experts” reads a press release from HHHS issued on Feb. 11. “This assessment recommended a planning process to proactively replace the roofs within a 2018 – 2021 time frame. In May HHHS issued a public tender to replace both Hyland Crest and Highland Wood roofs and the tender was awarded in July 2018. Based on the assessment Hyland Crest was scheduled first and that work was completed in September 2018. Weather conditions prevented us from moving forward to replace the Highland Wood roof following the work at Hyland Crest and the work was then rescheduled for spring 2019.”

According to the HHHS hotline now that residents are safely relocated the team’s “priority is now turning to addressing the current roof conditions to support the return of residents as soon as possible … Our team is now actively working on removing the recurring ice build-up to support further inspections. We will then take the appropriate steps to ensure the situation is effectively addressed confirming a timeline for repairing the roof and reopening Highland Wood.”

“This should have never happened and it’s just either somebody didn’t know or somebody made a bad decision but it doesn’t make it right” said Schmidt. “This has to be learned from. This shouldn’t happen again.”

He said he received a quick response from local MPP Laurie Scott’s office when he called and that in the future he’d like political representatives to push hard to encourage future inspections on a timely basis.

Now Schmidt and his 91-year-old mother will have to travel to Lindsay at a time when Schmidt said he was hoping the weather was warming up and local visits could increase instead. He is hoping the roof can be repaired quickly and that residents are relocated back to their Highland Wood home in the four to six months that was suggested to him.

A summary of the topics covered at the Feb. 20 meeting was to be posted on the HHHS website but as of press time on Feb. 25 had not yet been updated. A Highland Wood information hotline can be reached at 705-457-1392 extension 2400. Updates can also be found at hhhs.ca/news-announcements/highland-wood-updates.