By Sue Tiffin
Published Feb. 12 2019
Shirley Howe’s mom was one of the last to leave Highland Wood long-term care facility in Haliburton taking the belongings from her room for the relocation to Lindsay.
All Highland Wood residents – 28 people in total – have been evacuated from the building after a thorough inspection of the building’s leaky roof.
“The [staff] just seemed to know exactly what they were doing” said Howe of the evacuation. “I’m sure they must have little talks about this happening emergencies happening they’re really good.”
HHHS CEO Carolyn Plummer issued a press release on Wednesday Feb. 6 stating that several residents were being relocated to other parts of the building and to neighbouring long-term care facilities while staff finds temporary fixes. On Thursday Feb. 7 an updated press release said the situation had changed.
“Later that day [following the original press release] outside experts assisted our maintenance staff with a detailed inspection of the roof and the decision has now been made to relocate all Highland Wood residents until further notice” said Plummer in the Feb. 7 statement.
“To me they seemed very organized and everything seemed to go off well so they did a good job” said Howe of her mom’s unexpected move from her home of five months. Originally Howe had hoped her mom could be close to her at Hyland Crest but room at Highland Wood opened first and with her sister in Haliburton the scenario was working.
Howe said the damage from the leaks was visible.
“It looked like a mess. Of course we couldn’t go where the water had come through but I could see through the window where the tiles were all down from the ceiling and everything. It was a mess.”
The roof on Highland Wood has been in place for 19 years and was due for repair when it began leaking.
“The leaks have been extensive in multiple areas including hallways and resident rooms” said Plummer. ”Our maintenance team has been working around the clock to divert water off the roof and to monitor leaks inside the building as the ice melts and as the rain falls.”
According to both press releases HHHS is working with the Central East Local Health Integration Network and the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to relocate the residents “as quickly as possible while continuing to provide safe quality care.”
Plummer told the Echo that all relocations occurred within the northeast part of the Central East LHIN but could not give further details due to reasons of confidentiality. Several residents have been transferred to Hyland Crest according to Plummer so she said staff will need to be relocated there as well.
“All of our staff at Highland Wood and across the organization have been doing an incredible job throughout this crisis” she said. “They acted quickly and efficiently to ensure residents were kept safe and continued to receive top quality care. It has been challenging though to see our residents have to leave their home. Our staff care very much about our residents – they are almost like family so it was very sad to see our residents go even though it is temporary.”
“It certainly was a shame and you hate to disrupt them when they’re not well” said Howe. “Mother was sure I was going with her to stay with her and I said ‘oh no Mother I can’t do that.’”
Plummer would not comment on when residents would return to Highland Wood or what plan was in place for roof repair.
“It is too soon to know how long the relocation will last however we will do everything we can to get Highland Wood back in operation as quickly as possible” she said. “It is too early to know the plan for the roof at this point.”
Howe said she wasn’t sure how long her mom would be relocated in Lindsay.
“She had to take essentials with her but they have no idea how long they’re going to be gone” she said. “Her clothes had to be packed up and all of that because the rooms might be a mess when they start putting in the new ceilings and roof and everything …They said it could be a couple of weeks and if you think of putting a new roof on a house this is much bigger than a house.”
Family members of residents have been contacted. Some reached out to the Echo concerned and frustrated about the situation but were not willing to go on record.
“We are also working with the families of all of our residents to ensure that their loved ones are relocated into facilities that will provide the same comfortable home environment that they experienced at Highland Wood” said Plummer through the Feb. 7 release.
To the Echo she said “During the time that we had to temporarily relocate some residents to other parts of the facility the residents and their families were very understanding as they recognized the challenging situation we were facing. It was difficult when we had to make the decision to relocate the residents to other facilities; it’s never easy to leave one’s home in a crisis situation and this was no different. Although everyone understands that the safety of our residents is our top priority and they understand why we needed to make this decision it was still difficult to leave familiar surroundings and the staff who know them so well.”
Plummer’s Feb. 6 statement said the roof is scheduled to be replaced this spring and the current leaks came from melting ice and snow that had built up.
“The Ministry and Central East LHIN have been working closely with [HHHS] throughout this situation and will continue to work with us through the coming days and weeks” said Plummer. “They facilitated the process to help find other facilities where we could send our residents and they have been helping to support us through this.”
She thanked local staff for “the non-stop work they have been doing and continue to do to keep our residents safe.” Staff from other departments as well as volunteers HHHS Foundation staff and community members have also offered their support.
“We have had a tremendous outpouring of support from our community” she said.
Howe acknowledged it will be difficult for some family members to manage visits.
“I guess it would be hard” she said. “They have to realize it didn’t happen on purpose that’s for sure.”
She has three siblings who will visit her mom in Lindsay as they did in Haliburton.
“As long as one of us goes she’ll be happy” said Howe.
A third press release from HHHS expected to be issued Monday did not arrive by deadline