We have all heard the tragic stories of the front lines of health care—we know of the unprecedented exhaustion, pressure and trauma that nurses, doctors, paramedics, environmental services staff and allied health professionals are coping with. The pressures on the health care system are enormous.
What may not be as obvious, is the crisis unfolding within congregate (communal living) settings. Congregate care settings are organizations that house some of our community’s most vulnerable people. This letter is being sent on behalf of a group of leaders of our community’s congregate settings.
OUR COMMUNITY’S MOST VULNERABLE
The pandemic has demonstrated once again that those most at risk in our community for contracting the virus are often the same people who are most at risk for—everything else. They are the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the homeless, the disabled, the elderly and ill. They are children and youth in transition or living with neglect or abuse. They are individuals who are differently abled or struggling with mental health, and those using substances to cope. They are women at risk, locked down in their own homes with an abusive partner. They are essential workers in grocery stores, warehouses and manufacturing facilities who don’t have sick benefits and don’t have the social capital or support to refuse unsafe work during this pandemic.
These are the people we serve and care for. They are the reason that we are awake in the middle of the night—hoping we can keep our respective facilities and services free from an outbreak—while we daily track the case counts and trends, which can make us feel anything but hopeful.
OUR ADDITIONAL CHALLENGE
For the past year, at a minimum of twice per week, this group of leaders from our community’s congregate care settings have been meeting—virtually, of course—as the pandemic has unfolded and evolved.
The organizations represented at this virtual table shoulder a unique burden. We continue to work to keep the people we support safe from the risks they face in their everyday lives. We are now also working to mitigate the added risk of contracting the virus while living communally within the walls of our organizations.
Over the past year, our work has changed. It had to. Not only have we had to learn, develop, and implement new Infection, Prevention and Control protocols and to work together while wearing face masks and eye protection, but in order to effectively protect the people we support as well as our staff, we have had to adapt our facilities and service delivery.
We can’t give up or relax our steadfast vigilance. We are responsible for the safety and well-being of too many.
OUR GREATEST FEARS
Our fears are many, but one of the greatest is that our staff will get sick and be unable to care for people living in our organizations and accessing our services. We fear that if even one of the people we support becomes infected, the virus may spread, infecting other residents as well as our staff. We fear that if that happens, we won’t have the resources we need to care for people in the way they need to be cared for.
However, the biggest fear we have right now is that the more tired, frustrated, and angry we all become, the less willing any of us are to follow the rules. We know, however, that in not doing so, we will be condemning ourselves to a fourth wave and maybe a fifth of this pandemic.
We want our work to be all about caring for the people we support and their families. We want to be able to do this in the way we know they need it—face-to-face, in-person and with unreserved compassion. We know the demand for our services isn’t going anywhere but up—even when the pandemic is long behind us—so we are holding out hope. We have to.
It was Mahatma Ghandi who said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” We believe in the greatness of our community, which is why we are asking for your help.
We are asking you to dig in. To dig deeper. Despite being tired and frustrated, please consider your actions and the impact they may have on people who may not have the same resources and privileges that you do. Please help us protect the most vulnerable people in our community.
Stay home as much as you can. Wear a mask. When it’s your turn, get vaccinated. By doing so you are helping us save lives.
The Congregate Care Settings of Dufferin and Caledon:
Bethell Hospice, Caledon Community Services, Choices Youth Shelter, Community Living Dufferin, Dufferin Area Family Health Team, Dufferin Child and Family Services, Family Transition Place, Hospice Dufferin, Kerry’s Place, Lord Dufferin Centre, Oliver House, Pine River Institute, Shelburne Long Term Care Home and Retirement Community, SHIP, and South Bridges Care Community.