Highland Wood long-term care home families, staff and management have severely criticized the local health services’ handling of the facility’s emergency evacuation last year.

Haliburton Highlands Health Services released a draft action plan Feb. 21, which details its ideas for improvement in the wake of the feedback. The criticism came during stakeholders’ sessions Dec. 9 and 10, to address what happened after HHHS relocated residents Feb. 7 due to serious roofs leaks at Highland Wood.

A third-party, external facilitator oversaw the process according to the report. Most of the feedback was negative, with the event reportedly creating long-lasting trauma.

“Every session had tears,” the report said. “Across audiences, there is a sense that answers have not been provided, that accountability has not been accepted and that there was a cover-up.”

Feedback included a “lack of compassion” from management and the Ministry of Health. Stakeholders expressed the need for a better emergency plan and communications and HR support, which the draft action plan calls for HHHS to address.

HHHS president/CEO Carolyn Plummer said the feedback was difficult to read through but she appreciated the honesty.

“We wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to understand that experience,” Plummer said. “We are taking this very seriously and actually as hard as it was to read, I really appreciate that people were as honest as they were.”

Another common perception was the sense that the situation was preventable. The roof was ageing and slated for repair in the spring of 2019, after Highland Wood’s sister facility in Minden, Hyland Crest, had its roof fixed the fall of 2018.

“It was preventable and it’s disgusting it was allowed to happen,” the report quoted from a staff feedback session. “Played Russian roulette and lost.”

HHHS maintains that the early failure of the roof “occurred suddenly without warning,” per the preliminary report of forensic engineering firm Michael Flynn & Associates Ltd., who inspected the roof on behalf of HHHS’s insurance company.

“This event occurred very early on within the service life of the roof and without the normal signs of early failure,” Flynn wrote after his inspection. “No one within your facility is at fault and certainly should not be blamed for this unfortunate incident.”

Other points of criticism included issues with covering travel costs for family members, a lack of presence from the HHHS board, a lack of government funding for infrastructure and labour issues, with staff reportedly feeling unsupported during the incident.

Plummer said the Ministry of Health was involved in the feedback process. She said she would like to see better infrastructure funding for long-term care homes.

“There are some avenues for infrastructure funding for hospitals, but we don’t have access to those similar avenues for long-term care,” Plummer said. “There needs to be something more in place to support homes or be able to keep themselves maintained and to sustain themselves. That’s certainly something I’ve been advocating for and continue to advocate for.”

But Plummer said HHHS will move ahead with long-term infrastructure renewal regardless of whether more provincial funding comes.

“That will continue to be our plan,” Plummer said. “We’re building on that plan, but we will end up needing to borrow money to make that happen if funding doesn’t come.”

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