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Family members raise red flags about communication coming out of Roberta Place

'I can assure you in no way shape or form is anyone trying to hide the numbers, change the numbers, play down the numbers, increase the numbers. We’re all working on the same team,' says Dr. Colin Lee

The catastrophic COVID-19 case numbers that came out of the Roberta Place long-term care home Wednesday afternoon  which included 19 deaths as well as 122 infected residents and 69 staff/team members  painted a scary picture for the families of people living at the Barrie facility. 

The number of deaths at the 137-bed home on Essa Road in the city's south end nearly doubled overnight from Tuesday, up from 10 fatalities, while the resident cases jumped by 30 and the staff cases increased by 12. 

Those sobering numbers have left families wanting better communication.

Debbie Grigg’s mother has been a resident of Roberta Place since Oct. 20, 2020. When the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit declared at outbreak Jan. 8 at the facility, Grigg says she breathed a sigh of relief when her 75-year-old mom, Evelyn VanEmbden, tested negative for COVID.

“That was good to know and I really felt upbeat about how this might go, but cases started rising and quickly,” Grigg told BarrieToday.

While new information was being regularly shared on a daily basis, as time went on Grigg said it became harder to reach anyone at the facility and that included her mom, too.

When Wednesday’s huge spike was made public, Grigg told BarrieToday she had heard from no one at the home.

“We had received information and updates everyday except yesterday (Wednesday), which turned out to be one of the worst days,” Grigg said. “Don’t get me wrong, I do understand how busy they are and how overworked many are at the home. I just feel like, no matter what, families need updates.”

To make matters worse, the health unit announced testing from six swabs had indicated a "very high probability" that the "very tenacious" virus ravaging Roberta Place is a variant strain.

“I and some others had heard a few days ago that we were likely dealing with a variant,” Grigg said. “That only scares me more.”

While it is believed the home is dealing with either the United Kingdom, South African or Brazilian variant of the virus, another test is expected to shed more light on the exact strain. That information is expected in the next few days. 

With so much going on at the facility, getting accurate information is sometimes an issue. Numbers are received and confirmed by the health unit, but the home where tests are done often gets the numbers first and relay them to family members.

Public health officials have confirmed that Roberta Place has been accurate and prompt in the data it has reported publicly. 

Dr. Colin Lee, associate medical officer of health with the local health unit, says he's confident everyone involved has been trying their best to get the information out as accurately as they can.

“What one has to appreciate is that the numbers change very rapidly and there is a transfer of information from one person to the next, one party to the next,” said Lee. “There is a good possibility that the numbers were right or a little bit off, based on the different calculations that need to be done.

“I can assure you in no way shape or form is anyone trying to hide the numbers, change the numbers, play down the numbers, increase the numbers. We’re all working on the same team,” Lee added. “This has been a difficult outbreak and this is something (the numbers) that is difficult to pinpoint, day-to-day and hour-to-hour.”

VanEmbden is relatively healthy and Grigg said “the only reason my mom is in there is that she does have Alzhiemers and dementia. Other than that, she is pretty healthy.”

Grigg’s parents were living in Sudbury when her dad was diagnosed with cancer and Grigg moved them in with her in Barrie.

Sadly, Grigg’s father died May 4, 2020 and as VanEmbden’s dementia worsened, Grigg knew it was time to get her mom somewhere she could be helped. 

“I’m terrified. Sorry, I’m very emotional right now,” Grigg said. “I’m scared for my mom, I’m scared for everyone there and I just want to have better communication about how she is.”

Grigg said she was told that a retired nurse was being brought in specifically to assist in the communication with families and their loved ones.

Grigg made it very clear that she doesn’t blame anyone at Roberta Place, but is just hoping the situation improves.

“These poor nurses and PSWs (personal support workers) are at their ends, I’m sure. They are working crazy shifts and dealing with a dangerous virus,” she said. 

Grigg said she sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford stating she wanted to meet with him.

“I don’t blame Mr. Ford. I look at his eyes and face on TV and I see a man who cares,” she said. “But he’s listening to A, B and C and he should be listening to us families. We're in the thick of it and know what is best more than anyone who is not dealing with it.”