‘Mattress-bug central’: Residents of Huronia Visitor House converse out

‘Bed-bug central’: Residents of Huronia Guest Home speak out

Food shortages and bed bug infestations plague residents while staff say they have not been paid since December 16; “These people deserve better,” says one employee

When Brenda Cator walks down the long hallway from her room at the Huronia Guest Home to the outside patio so she can smoke a cigarette, the exposed subfloor she walks on reeks of urine.

Cator is one of 27 residents who are frustrated with the conditions at their assisted-living home at 300 Main St. in Stayner.

Citing a bed bug infestation, a lack of food and staff allegations of non-payment since mid-December, many residents and staff at the home are fed up and stressed. However, many say they have nowhere else to go.

“I’ve seen a lot in the last two months. I never saw a bed bug before I moved here,” Cator told CollingwoodToday.

The Huronia Guest Home is a privately owned assisted living facility that is home to 27 residents. The home employs 10 staff who help residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Before Cator moved into the home two months ago, she lived alone in Wasaga Beach, but she is partially paralyzed in her left leg, meaning she needs a brace and walker to get around. She turned to assisted living to help.

“I am unable to take care of myself. I need assisted living,” she said.

Cator participates in the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and says that due to her personal circumstances, she only keeps $149 a month from her payouts, with the rest going directly to the home.

According to the Clearview Township Bylaws Department, the community has received complaints expressing concern about conditions at the Huronia Guest Home.

Joe Paddock, the community’s supervisor of enforcement, says past fire inspections have been completed and the property owner has updated the deficiencies accordingly. The community is currently working with the property owner to address an ongoing bed bug infestation, he said.

“Up to this date, the owner has not complied with the Property Standards Order,” Paddock told CollingwoodToday. “A pest control company has been hired to treat the property. They haven’t started yet, but we should have an appointment this week to start treatment.

“The community intends to monitor and continue to work with the property owner,” he added.

Meanwhile, Cator says her room isn’t the worst for bugs, but they do invade the beds and dining area.

On January 5, staff at the home announced to CollingwoodToday that three residents of the home had moved out.

Even if Cator could find another suitable place to stay, the bug infestation won’t allow her to take any of her personal belongings with her.

“I don’t like change. My whole family has stairs and they all work. They thought they were taking me somewhere safe and I am. And I’m happy,” Cator said. “Hope someone buys it.”

Candice Moncrieff, the cook at Huronia Guest House, has worked in various roles at the house for four years. She says she hasn’t been paid since December 16, and even then it was a partial payment.

She says the facility’s food problems began in May, when the home had a COVID-19 outbreak. As a result of that outbreak, she said her regular grocer was no longer delivering, so the owner bought groceries from Costco weekly to feed residents.

“The food then came in,” she said. “The supply started to dwindle. A (food bank) in Collingwood has started giving us fresh fruit and veg.”

Over time, Moncrieff says, the owner saw the donations and began buying less and less food to supplement. At this point, Moncrieff says she is only given sausage and bread, which she can use to prepare all meals at home.

“I’m angry and I’m hurt. I try to eat a balanced diet for these people, like salad and fresh fruit. I can’t do this with bread and sausage,” she said.

“We weren’t paid,” Moncrieff added, his voice cracking with emotion, noting that the staff stayed because they didn’t see fit to abandon the residents who depend on their daily help.

“How do we pay our bills? It’s a lot,” she said. “People need to know what’s going on here. The conditions in here are terrible. These people deserve better.”

Cator also pointed to the problems with eating at home.

“I had never been to a Tafel before. I used to donate to the Tafel. I always thought this should be for people who really need it,” Cator said. “The girls here are doing the best they can with what they have. They bring groceries from home.”

Moncrieff says since a Facebook post describing the home’s difficulties circulated around the holiday season, the home has been inundated with food donations from the Clearview, Wasaga Beach and Collingwood communities, which has helped her cook more balanced meals. Without knowing what’s coming up each day, however, creating a menu can be a challenge, she says.

Randy McKay has lived at the Huronia Guest Home for 19 years. Confined to a wheelchair, McKay says the changes over the past year have been significant.

“My room is bed bug central. There are thousands of them in my room. I have to sleep there. I have no choice. I have bites all over my arms and legs,” McKay said, claiming bed bugs had been a presence in the home for at least five years.

McKay said the issue of proper nutrition has been an issue for about three months. He says he’s grateful for the community’s food donations to try and help the situation.

“They’re keeping us afloat for now,” McKay said. “That’s not right. People are leaving. These are my friends. I’m trying to find another place.”

He says the opportunity to leave the place he’s called home for the past 19 years comes with its own set of challenges.

“I feel very sad. I will have to leave most of my stuff behind because you can’t take bug-infested stuff,” he said.

“The staff here is great. They’ll bend over backwards to try and help you,” McKay said. “Hopefully something will be done soon.”

Sonia Milizia has lived at the shelter for two months and moved in after leaving a Barrie shelter.

“We suffer. We don’t eat,” she said. “It’s just not right.”

However, Milizia is another resident who has no other choice.

“I have nowhere to go at the moment,” Milizia said. “This place needs fixing.”

Although Huronia Guest House is listed online as an assisted living and retirement home facility, the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority, which oversees retirement homes across Ontario, said Thursday that the home was denied a retirement home license in 2012, at CollingwoodToday’s request.

“The applicant appealed to the License Appeal Tribunal against the registrar’s decision to refuse its license. The appeal has been dropped as the home no longer operates as a retirement home under the Retirement Homes Act,” reads information about the home on the RHRA website.

“To confirm, this community is not a licensed nursing home and as such we have no regulatory body,” a spokesman for the agency wrote in an email to CollingwoodToday.

Assisted living is defined as a home environment with care services included in the service fee. Because the home is not registered as a retirement home and is privately run, when asked, staff say they are not sure who to contact for recourse.

When contacted Thursday, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) said it was working with the facility and acknowledged the concerns were within its purview, but gave no details on the nature of its investigation.

“SMDHU conducts food safety inspections, annual licensing inspections at licensed facilities, and complaint investigations into public health concerns at assisted living facilities,” SMDHU media spokeswoman Heather Howe wrote in an email to CollingwoodToday.

“The Health Unit has followed up the facility based on requests for Health Unit support and continues to work with it and is in constant communication with other community authorities who are responding to the situation within their respective mandates,” she said.

The owners of the Huronia Guest Home have not responded to multiple requests for comment that have been sent via email, phone and social media for this story as of the time of publication.