When the province first declared a state of emergency and issued safety directives to essential services, Portage had to act swiftly to ensure the health and well-being of our current residents and staff were prioritized. Unfortunately, this led to the suspension of important program activities such as family visits to the centre to meet loved ones and participate in their therapy, as well as face-to-face aftercare therapy sessions. Additionally, the admittance of new residents to the centre also faced temporary suspension. Being unable to readily help struggling young people and their families calling onto us for help was a difficult experience. It pushed us to look for solutions expeditiously.
First, our residents and employees were thoroughly informed on basic hygiene measures. The nurse spoke to the residents, many of them just 14 or 15 years of age, explaining what was going on, why they couldn’t meet their families anymore and how to stay safe from the virus; calming their young minds. Hand sanitizer dispensers were placed strategically throughout the centre. All employees began to have their temperature taken every day upon arrival at work and have to complete a health questionnaire before being allowed in contact with residents.
Our IT professionals then quickly reestablished that vital link between our residents and their families through video conferencing.
We acquired standalone mobile bunker houses set up at a safe distance from our main resident community to accommodate new admissions of residents. Specific staff members are exclusively assigned to this special admissions process. A nurse monitors the health of the new admissions and they are integrated with the rest of the residential community after remaining symptom-free for any infection for 14 days. Even though they are physically apart for the first 14 days, the new admissions take part in everyday activities and group therapy with the rest of the community through videoconferencing.
Next, it was ensured that residents had access to and were fully engaged in their online schooling – they remain focused on completing their High School credits and a plan on how to pursue post-secondary education after Portage under the guidance of caring teachers from the Upper Grand District School Board.
Afterward, it was time to resume the face-to-face aftercare therapy sessions that are so vital in ensuring a healthy lifestyle and abstinence once a resident leaves the centre. Residents now participate in these through a special Zoom video conferencing facility (designed for use by health care professionals) from the safety of their homes. We are finding greater-than-before participation of parents in these meetings!
Of all these actions, the arrival of the bunker houses at the centre caused most excitement for our residents. It all came to be affectionately called The Bunker House Project. To learn more about and support the project please click here.
Portage Ontario is grateful for the shower of support from the community for its Bunker House Project. We are humbled by the actions of individuals who have selflessly made contributions while not caring for their own ease and comfort in these times. To them, we say thank you.