TORONTO -- A facility that supports adults with developmental and physical disabilities in Markham said that critically important staff walked off the job Thursday night following a confirmed outbreak of COVID-19.

“We actually reached a bit of a boiling point last evening because we have had our workforce slowly trickling away over the last few weeks for a number of reasons,” Participation House Executive Director Shelley Brillinger told CTV News Toronto on Friday.

“As of last evening, once the confirmation returned with the COVID-19 positive results, we had a number of staff walk off the job from all departments.”

Brillinger said that the outbreak includes 10 residents and two staff members who have tested positive, adding that a number of additional test results for both groups are pending.

As a result, Brillinger says that few union staff are still on the job at the facility that regularly sees 35 staff members over the course of 24 hours. 

“We’ve got about 10 people here today,” Brillinger said.

There are 42 residents at Participation House that are “the most vulnerable”, according to Brillinger, some of which require being lifted out of bed or being hand-fed each meal.

“These are really critical care needs that they have and it’s only enhanced by the fact that now we have 42 people independently in their rooms, separated and you have to dress like I do to go in to care for any one at any given time,” Brillinger said, referring to her personal protective equipment which includes a face mask, goggles and full body covering.

Brillinger said that the situation at present is not sustainable and that Participation House has exhausted all opportunities to secure support through staffing agencies.

“We need help so badly.”


Brillinger says that she has spoken with Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti who offered to “mobilize” in an effort to support the facility.

Scarpitti took to Twitter on Friday afternoon calling for “emergency support” for Participation House. The mayor is specifically asking for donations of personal protective equipment for staff.

“I am issuing an emergency call to businesses, community groups or individuals who can immediately help to provide gowns, safety glasses and gloves,” Scarpitt said in a statement.

Those with supplies to donate are asked to contact the Mayor’s office directly

Speaking to CP24 on Friday, Scarpitti questioned why these facilities aren't being given the supplies they need.

"Why are long-term care facilities, why are hospitals having to work on their own to reach out into the community to get this very, very important equipment that protects health care workers, that protects those people looking after our seniors and the vulnerable in our institutions like Participation House," he said.

In a statement to CTV News Toronto, a spokesperson for the ministry of children, community and social services said that regional staff are working closely with Participation House to ensure appropriate staffing levels are in place and that all steps are being taken to protect staff and residents.

"Personal protective equipment is available and in use, and more is on the way," spokesperson Palmer Lockridge said in an email. "There are currently eight support staff, which includes three personal support workers and one nurse, and management staff have stepped in to assist with clients to ensure they are supported as we work to find additional staff."

"We want to thank the community, and the mayor of Markham, for their support and assistance and we continue to work with Participation House, and all our partners, to ensure that clients are supported and their health and safety, and that of the staff who work with them, is protected."