Plan addresses strong criticism of HHHS’s handling of roof leak
By Jenn Watt
A roof leak and subsequent evacuation of Highland Wood long-term care home last year, which relocated residents to facilities across the region, left some of those involved feeling traumatized and distrustful of Haliburton Highlands Health Services, according to a draft action plan released by the health services corporation last week.
The plan includes feedback gathered during sessions in December with staff, management and family members of residents at the Haliburton-based long-term care home facilitated by an impartial third party, and covers how HHHS handled communications, logistics, media, alternate lodgings, travel, renovation work, repatriation, labour relations, safety and other items.
Feedback was delivered to the health corporation’s senior leadership team, which crafted an action plan with steps to be taken in the short-, middle-, and long-term to repair relationships, strengthen policy and be better prepared for future emergencies.
“I know that it was a really difficult experience for everybody who went through it and ... the feedback was hard to read, but at the same time, I’m really glad that we went through this process,” HHHS president and CEO Carolyn Plummer told the Echo following the release of the action plan. “... I really appreciated how open and honest and frank people were because ... the only way to move forward is to really address the things that are bothering people the most and in reading this [the action plan] it seems people were very frank and honest in what they had to say.”
Plenty of those frank comments were included in the document, grouped in a chart outlining how HHHS is intending to address issues that arose. An offer to participate in the focus groups was sent out to all staff, family members and residents who were involved in the evacuation and more than 30 provided feedback including between 12 and 15 staff, about eight members of management, eight family members and one resident. HHHS administration was not provided with any of their names.
Feedback includes statements such as “concerns raised about ‘coming into work at a place they no longer trust,’” and “very traumatic event and seems like there was very little management of the trauma.” Some said they were still too traumatized to talk about what happened.
It was noted that “every session had tears” and comments included ongoing anger and low morale.
“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,” the document states.
Plummer said she understands that the slow release of information through what was a nearly four-month process from February to June of 2019 left people feeling that something was being hidden from them. At the time, there were rumours that HHHS was aware that the roof was in need of repair long before they scheduled a replacement.
A press release issued in February of last year stated that an assessment done two years prior recommended replacing roofs between 2018 and 2021. A public tender was issued for Hyland Crest long-term care home in Minden and Highland Wood in May of 2018 and the contract awarded in July of the same year. Hyland Crest was scheduled first for replacement, with the process going forward in September of 2018. Bad weather caused a rescheduling of Highland Wood’s roof replacement to the spring of 2019.
Following the roof leak, an insurance adjuster was called in, but it took time for his arrival because of other similar claims across the province, Plummer said. However, that delay caused a subsequent delay in the release of information.
“The more time that goes by without answers, the more it seems like people wonder. I would probably be wondering too: what’s really happening and why aren’t they saying anything? Well, the honest answer is, we weren’t saying anything because we didn’t have anything to say,” Plummer said.
As part of the draft action plan, an excerpt of an evaluation of the roof done by the forensics engineer was released. In part, it reads: “There were no ongoing signs of water infiltration or roof leaks, there are no signs of early failure or ongoing water seepage below the roof deck. There are no signs of previous water infiltration, and or corrosion of the steel decking. There was no warning with this sudden and accidental event.”
It goes on to say: “... The roof failure at the Haliburton Highlands Health Services facility was sudden; I have been investigating roof failures and have been involved in roof replacements/assessments for nearly four decades. I want to assure you, this event occurred very early on within the service life of the roof, and occurred without the normal signs of early failure. No one within your facility is at fault and certainly should not be blamed for this unfortunate incident.”
A build-up of ice on the roof, caused by freezing and thawing throughout the winter, followed by a sudden melt, was deemed to have caused the extensive leaking.
Those surveyed also indicated things felt chaotic and that not enough information was available. A lack of point person or method of asking questions and receiving prompt responses caused problems, respondents said.
“A new emergency/continuity plan for such an event in future needs to cover at least: emergency evacuation procedures including belongings, food, equipment etc; emergency committee – assigned roles and responsibilities; testing of defined plan – scenario testing and mock evacuations; resident move triage; resident care monitoring; communication plan for all audiences, using a number of mediums; workforce plan including some proactive work to establish options and involving union; mental health supports for all stakeholders; travel and reimbursement policies,” the plan’s overall summary reads.
While emergency plans regarding evacuations and infrastructure failure existed prior to the Highland Wood roof leak, Plummer said there are some things that you can’t be fully prepared for.
“What’s really difficult to prepare for is what the experience is like when it’s really happening, to deal with human beings who are being taken away from their home and staff who are being taken away from their workplace with no answers,” she said.
Ongoing issues were also “amplified” by the situation, the document says, listing feedback including lack of communications and contact with manager; lack of HR expertise; chronic understaffing at long-term care; and a feeling that the Ministry of Health is out of touch without proper approaches to funding long-term care, buildings that are integrated, and required proactive maintenance.
On a positive note, the document says that there is interest from people in participating in making change, that staff and management felt they came together as a team, that a better plan can be developed and there’s interest in helping, that front-line staff is appreciated, and that more can be done to help what is a small facility with limited resources.
Plummer said that she wants to move forward by seeking input widely and regularly. The plan was presented at three meetings with stakeholder groups held on Feb. 19 and 20, which garnered additional suggestions and what is now a draft action plan will soon be finalized.
However, the CEO said the intention was for the plan to be a living document, open to change as the need arises.
She intends to check in regularly to evaluate how HHHS is doing in moving through its action items.
The action plan was made public because the corporation wants people to know they take the feedback seriously, Plummer said.
“We want to be able to make sure that we’re taking what we’ve learned and putting it to good use in making improvements so we can be better prepared in the future,” she said, “and we know that’s important to our residents, to our families, to our staff, but we also think it’s equally important to our community.”