TORONTO -- A former federal cabinet minister and doctor who is helping out at an Ontario facility that supports adults with developmental and physical disabilities says she saw fear in the eyes of residents, most of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

Jane Philpott began working at Participation House in Markham, Ont. over the Easter long weekend after the facility was struck by a massive staffing shortage.

Six residents at Participation House have died as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Data provided by York Region Public Health confirms that 40 of the 42 residents at the facility have tested positive for the virus, including deceased patients. Forty of the staff have also been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Speaking to reporters on Friday morning, Philpott said that during her three weeks at the facility she has learned about the “power and necessity of nurses.” She said when she arrived at Participation House, it was “a place in crisis.”

According to Philpott, the outbreak started with just 10 residents who were infected, but by the end of the Easter weekend, everyone had been swabbed.

“I saw what it was like for those people in those last days of life. I saw the fear in their eyes,” Philpott said. “I saw the anxiety of not being able to get a good breath. This is an extremely serious infection and nobody should take it lightly.”

Philpott said that the group of people who live in Participation House are highly vulnerable. All but four people who lived at the facility couldn’t walk without assistance, she added, and many need assistance to eat.

“These are people who have complex medical conditions and COVID-19 on top of that, we knew would be really complicating and put their lives at risk.”

Philpott urged everyone to continue to follow the advice of public health professionals and listen to the voices of the province’s most vulnerable.

“The voices of those people living at Participation House, the voices of the grandmas and grandpas living in long-term care facilities and residential retirement, they need us to hear their voices, they are afraid.”

Jane Philpott

Long-term care homes have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario. As of Friday, 198 facilities have declared an outbreak.

Philpott said that while the last few weeks have been challenging, she believes the worst at Participation House is behind them.

“There will be a day, hopefully very soon, the outbreak will be over.”

Three residents of Participation House who have died of COVID-19 have been identified by loved ones as 58-year-old Martin Frogley, 53-year-old Patricia “Patty” Baird and 70-year-old Raymond Johnston.