Gord Haugh, Guest column 

We have seen parades of first responders and supporters driving past hospitals to say thanks to the doctors, nurses and staff who daily go to work to take care of patients who are in critical condition.

Many of these health care workers end up comforting some who reach the end of life unable to even see or talk to their family members. For their daily exhausting medical duties and for these duties that go above and beyond they deserve our unending praise.

The headlines daily let us know about the rising death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Especially unfortunate is the situation in long-term care and retirement homes where residents and care workers alike are being cut down by this terrible virus.

Homes to many developmentally disabled residents across the province have also been featured in the news as both staff and residents have succumbed.

What many in the public may not know is that Community Living South Muskoka has nine group living residences in our Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Honey Harbour communities, where people who have developmental disabilities live together in small settings of six people or less.

And, in their homes, our front line staff are working 24 hours a day, to provide personal care and provide a range of supports to ensure their health and safety and well being.

In better times, most Muskoka residents have probably seen those we support out working, participating in their community at activities such as swimming at the YMCA, or shopping with staff at local stores or even heading out to large sporting events in Toronto.

All of these activities support the aim of Community Living to integrate, where possible, the individuals we care for into our communities.

If you have been isolated with children during the stay at home orders, you will know how difficult it has been to keep them engaged and entertained day after day with little variation in their schedules.

Now imagine your children’s reaction if everyday you interacted with them wearing PPE.

Since our staff return to their own homes in the community after work, they may be exposed to the virus in the community.

For this reason, they must don PPE at work to avoid bringing the coronavirus into our homes.

Also, remember that the people they are caring for are developmentally disabled, and in many cases may not understand why all these measures are necessary.

Not only are the residents facing staff in PPE, but that staff has to explain why they can’t go on their community outings, or have visits with family and friends.

Coping with such changes in routine can be challenging for all of us but is even more so for persons who may not be able to express their loss or understand the reason why.

Few people know where our group homes are in their communities.

If you drive by you will seldom see any external signs that would indicate their existence. On the outside, most of our homes look like your home, albeit somewhat larger to accommodate multiple residents people in as close as possible to a family setting. Of course, this is done on purpose so our residents can feel we are as much a part of our communities as possible.

For these reasons, there won’t be any parades by our homes to thank the workers.

But, we should all remember that organizations like Community Living have dedicated staff who are doing jobs you never see.

In our case nearly 200 employees, including those who work in the homes, daily ensure that the 400 individuals who rely on Community Living, many of whom live with their families or on their own, have all the support they need to get through these impossible times.

Gord Haugh is board chair of Community Living South Muskoka. He can be reached at 705-687-6808 or by email at gh@haughcom.com

Gord Haugh wants to thank the 200 hidden heroes in Muskoka caring for 400 developmentally-disabled residents in nine group homes.