Lessons to learn from evacuation

The temporary closure of Highland Wood should be seen as nothing less than a tragedy.  

This week, we highlight residents who died while the facility closed due to a leaking roof. It is not a comfortable topic but it has to be brought up when something like this happens. 

 It is not necessarily fair to flag the evacuation as contributing to those deaths. But regardless, the tragedy emphasizes the need for Haliburton Highlands Health Services to do everything in its power to try to prevent this from happening again.  

The stories of Highland Wood families illustrate the degree of hardship there is when moving residents from long-term care homes. Being forcibly evacuated from your home without warning is difficult for anyone, but especially so for the vulnerable population in these place. The ill elderly, plenty of whom live with dementia, cannot necessarily bounce back from such sudden change easily.

Whether or not moving can accelerate death, as family member Alan Bangay asserted, it is not something that anyone approaching their end of life should have to go through.  

This experience should inspire preparedness and action. HHHS said it is not responsible for the roof’s failure. Whether or not that is the case, it should lead to substantial reflection. 

 For instance, nobody is to blame for the floods which have plagued our communities repeatedly in recent years. Nevertheless, local governments and businesses have taken steps to better prepare themselves for flooding, whether through planning or renovations.  

HHHS should make similar considerations, even if at a smaller scale. Crazier winters are the new norm. New roofs at Highland Wood and Hyland Crest should naturally leak less but they need to be well looked after in the coming years. When they next come up for replacement – even if that is 15 or 20 years down the line – consideration must be given to make such replacements proactively, even if a failure does not appear imminent.

If one bad-enough winter is all it takes for an old roof to suddenly fail, the roofs cannot be allowed to get that way next time.  

HHHS vice president of support services Kathy Newton told The Highlander the organization will practice evacuations and rehearse emergency plans. That is good. These past four months also need to be reviewed once residents have settled in to see what improvement could be made to the process. 

Acting chair of the Highland Wood Family Council Terry Hartwick said families and HHHS should talk to see what there is to learn from the Highland Wood evacuation. We agree.

HHHS has communicated regularly with families and we hope that continues in order to evaluate what can be improved. These families went through tremendous hardship over these past four months. Granted, so did HHHS and its employees who reacted to the crisis in the very best way that they could.   

Nevertheless, we must do all that we can to prevent such hardship in the future and always look to do better the next time an emergency occurs.

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