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Precautions have kept virus out of local group homes, but it's been hard on clients

Visits have been suspended since March; 'There are some individuals who do not understand why they can’t see their loved ones ... and that’s been tough,' CEO says
2019-05-15 Empower Simcoe 5
Empower Simcoe's Orillia office at 35 West St. N. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters file photo

While the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated some of those who live in group settings, Empower Simcoe has managed to keep the virus out of all of its locations.

The organization that serves those with intellectual and developmental disabilities operates 41 “group live-in locations” in Orillia and Barrie.

“To date, thank God, we’ve been able to prevent any transmission of the virus from any of our locations,” Empower Simcoe CEO Claudine Cousins said, adding no staff or clients have tested positive for the virus.

“Given that we are the largest developmental services agency in Simcoe County, we are very proud of that.”

It hasn’t been easy on clients and their families, however. The strict precautions put in place since the province declared a state of emergency in March include a suspension of all home and family visits to and from Empower Simcoe’s group living locations. It’s difficult for some clients to comprehend the situation.

“There are some individuals who do not understand why they can’t see their loved ones, why they can’t touch them, and that’s been tough,” Cousins said. “We’ve done everything we can to help, but it is very difficult. We know that social distancing will help us flatten the curve. It’s a huge sacrifice, but it’s necessary.”

When the pandemic began, people were given the opportunity to take their family members home, with support and resources from Empower Simcoe.

“For anyone who did not go home, technology has been a godsend,” Cousins said, noting Skype and other online platforms have allowed them to stay connected. “Overall, people are holding up as well as can be.”

Other precautionary steps the agency has taken include closing its main offices in Orillia and Barrie to the public and suspending its community support services day programs in both cities until further notice. It has done the same with its EarlyON Child and Family Centres and satellites.

Empower Simcoe has also set up assessment centres at all of its locations, including its main offices. All who enter have their temperature taken and must answer a list of questions.

The experience has forced many organizations and businesses to rethink the workplace and plan for how things might change post-COVID-19, and it's no different for Empower Simcoe.

“We have to now reimagine how we deliver our services to the community,” Cousins said, noting that could include people spending less time in the office. “It has changed the way we think about work. It has changed the way we approach each other.”

She thanked all of the staff for their work during the pandemic.

“They have risen to such heights in what they have done for us. They have been flexible. They have been open. They have changed their schedules,” she said. “Kudos to my staff, who are absolutely essential workers on the front line. I see them, I value them, and I thank them very much.”

For updates and more information, visit the Empower Simcoe website.

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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