Launching The Home Front
When we first started The Home Front on March 19, COVID-19 was just starting to really impact life in Canada. In the week leading up to March 19, things had accelerated rapidly: most people who were able to had started to work from home, the NBA, restaurants and schools had shut down, Italy was under lockdown; and things were just starting to escalate in New York. No one was speaking publicly in Canada yet about the upcoming PPE shortage that many healthcare professionals saw barrelling towards them.
We were convinced that a huge wave was coming for Canada, that the hospitals were about to be overwhelmed as they had been in Italy and New York.
As The Home Front launched, we decided to focus exclusively on ensuring frontline healthcare workers had access to basic PPE. It was clear that there was going to be a lot of suffering, and many different groups would be affected. There were many causes to be compassionate about, but this one was practical: if frontline healthcare workers didn’t have PPE, they would catch the virus and be unable to work (or worse), making it easier for our healthcare system to be overrun, driving up the death rate. We needed them to ‘hold the front lines’ to give Canadians a chance at surviving this.
A lot has changed since then.
Dozens of citizen-led groups have popped up leading similar initiatives. On March 21, Knix launched their fundraiser, and on March 24, the PPEDrive from Michael Garron Hospital was launched. Conquer COVID-19 is the most well-known initiative, having garnered celebrity endorsements and significant media attention, but is joined by dozens of other similar groups that have successfully secured millions of dollars and thousands of in-kind donations.
The PPE procurement landscape is one that has evolved fast and continues to shock me. When I first started to learn about this issue, my reaction was, ‘That is clearly the role of government.’ I learned quickly, from Diana House, Founder of The Home Front in London, ON, that most government institutions (hospitals) had 1 or 2 suppliers for their PPE, and given the worldwide shortage, were running out- but that MANY more sources of supply still existed, if one was only scrappy enough to find them.
The first step was finding local sources of donations and supply to purchase: dozens of government and citizen-led initiatives to solve this problem popped up quickly. The next step was overseas sourcing. I’ve since learned way too much about the world of brokers, of hedge funds buying up supply, of the complications of exporting from China and importing into Canada; of fraud and poor quality supplies.
Frankly, I was terrified that we would commit one of the worst sins of helping: leading with good intentions but actually getting in the way by driving up demand and prices for supplies. So at The Home Front, we directed businesses and individuals to donate PPE directly to hospital PPE Drives, but stayed away from pursuing overseas supply chains.
Status of COVID-19 in Canada & Ontario’s Hospitals
So far, Canada has exceeded expectations in flattening the curve. The expected tsunami of cases hitting the hospitals hasn’t come (at least yet). Earlier projections projected Ontario ICU beds exceeding capacity by April 7: as of today, at a provincial level we still have over 50% capacity. A CBC report on April 21 shared, “Previous modelling showed that by today, under the "best case scenario," more than 1,200 people confirmed to have COVID-19 would be in intensive care units”.
Currently 250 patients are in intensive care units. The province projected 1600 deaths by the end of April; as of April 20 this number is 814; total number of expected cases has dropped from 70,000 to 20,000. We’re starting to arrive in the section of the curve flattening where it looks like we overreacted: which means we’ve done well.
From a PPE perspective, hospitals seem to have come a long way since Doug Ford’s April 6 declaration that Ontario was a week away from running out of PPE. Reports from frontline healthcare staff raising the alarm about PPE shortages have quieted; the majority of individuals who reached out to us for help at The Home Front have now shared that their hospitals seem to now have sufficient stock. Here’s what we learned about PPE: when the government receives shipments, the first place it goes is to the hospitals. Then to the long-term care facilities. Then to other community groups.
So we’ve decided, for now at least, that the hospitals seem to have the majority of their PPE needs met by the government and by larger initiatives. While we are still focused on supporting individuals and hospitals by connecting them with offers of food and accommodations, we aren’t focused on supplying funds or PPE to hospitals.
Long-Term Care Facilities
While hospitals seem to be capable of handling capacity for now, clearly the hardest hit areas have been the long-term care facilities. Over 60% of deaths in Ontario are in long-term care facilities. We figured, of course, we should donate to where the outbreaks are the greatest. When we started to dig into which we should donate to, we discovered that the majority of the facilities with the largest outbreaks were privately owned, for-profit companies. (Data current as at April 27)
Information on the companies that own these organizations is hard to come by (I assume there is investigative journalism being done here and we will see a report on this coming out soon). One long long term care facility owner with publicly available data is Chartwell. Chartwell is worth over $2B and pays out annual dividends of 6% to their shareholders. This month, their staff was photographed wearing garbage bags because they lack proper PPE.
It quickly became clear that we could not, in good conscience, make donations to privately run organizations whose owners had access to the capital that could be used to address these problems, but had chosen not to. On the other hand, supporting not-for-profit long-term care facilities seemed an obvious choice to address the most dire need.
We’re starting to see numbers skyrocketing out of shelters and other areas where over 7,000 vulnerable people congregate every night and aren’t able to follow social distancing protocols, even when 1,200 hotel rooms have been made available as additional shelter space. In Toronto alone there have been outbreaks at 14 shelters, with well over 100 cases confirmed. The homeless population has been identified as one of the most at-risk groups in Canada right now.
Our First Two Grants
So, for our first two grants, we have decided to support two charitable organizations that are experiencing outbreaks:
Markhaven Home for Seniors (Long-term care home)
HomesFirst Shelter’s Willowdale Welcome Centre (Refugee shelter)
Markhaven Home for Seniors has reported 13 deaths of residents, and is one of only two Toronto area long term care homes experiencing an outbreak that is not-for-profit.
Willowdale is a shelter for refugees in North York that is experiencing the largest outbreak of positive cases of any shelter in Toronto, with over 110 positive cases. They have secured space at a hotel to increase their ability to enable social distancing, and those clients who have tested positive are effectively on lockdown.
Both organizations have expressed a desperate need for PPE and funds. The donated funds will be used to secure PPE, to pay for additional staffing, to provide food for staff that is working over time or for residents, or to purchase an iPad to enable residents to speak with their families while they remain in isolation. One of the concerns shared is that we have no idea how long this will go on for- there is no end in sight in terms of when these residents might be able to see their families again, or how long the staff and residents will have to live in such a challenging situation.
Messages from our Donation Recipients
“This generous donation from The Home Front will have a great impact on Markhaven Home for Seniors. Throughout this pandemic outbreak, Markhaven’s staff have had to work together as a cohesive team like never before to keep our residents safe. In doing so, it has become more apparent than ever just how dedicated our staff are to our residents. As such, your kind donation will go a long way towards our staff appreciation efforts to say thank you, but also, to help provide PPE’s that will keep both our residents and staff safe. We are so grateful that our community has organizations like The Home Front to support us when we need it most! Thank you on behalf of all of us at Markhaven!”
- Mike Bakewell, Executive Director, Markhaven
"We are incredibly delighted and grateful to accept the donations from Upside Foundation and The Home Front. With your support, we are able to provide reusable face masks and other PPE to our staff and residents that they can use at work and in their daily activities outside of Homes First. Thank you so much."
- Patricia Mueller, CEO, Homes First Society
Thank you so much to everyone who has generously donated so far. Our team has been working relentlessly to deeply understand the issues and forces impacting our battle with COVID-19, and ensure our efforts, and your funds, go to where they are needed most.
The battle against COVID-19 is far from over. With a vaccine expected in late 2021, we can expect this virus to continue to change the way we live, to take hundreds (or thousands) more lives even here in Ontario, and to leave thousands of people in precarious situations for many months to come.
I am a believer that everyone is suffering in some way in this time, and that everyone has a right to be frustrated, angry and sad about their current situation, as long as we keep it in context and acknowledge the greater suffering of others.
We understand that many do not currently have the capacity to give financially or the bandwidth to contribute time or resources: everyone is doing the best they can. To those who have the capacity to give their time and/or money, and have done so, thank you so much for stepping up to support the most vulnerable in our community.
Watching so many people step forward and come together is the best thing about this dark time.
Wishing you my very best.
Executive Director, The Upside Foundation of Canada
Co-Founder, The Home Front