This story is part of the 2020 Annual Report.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, we work, and how we interact with one another across the world. The ever-changing dynamics of the situation forces every company and organization in the world, including Victoria Park Community Homes, to be quick on their feet and adapt to the new challenges overnight.
From the beginning of the pandemic we established a COVID-Taskforce that met twice a week tackling the challenges we face as an employer to our staff, and as a property manager that provides a home to our residents. “Our focus was to keep everyone safe including our staff, our residents that live in our buildings, and our contractors. Health and safety is a main focus for us”, said Tracey Csordas, the Chair of the COVID-Taskforce.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, all our maintenance and capital work was put on-hold. When the Provincial government issued the first lockdown, we immediately reduced the number of office staff, and pulled-back on all unit inspections, site inspections, and non-essential maintenance. Within a day we had our office down to five people.” We refocused our staff’s efforts so that no one would be laid off and this is something we are very proud to have achieved.
“Communications is key to ensuring the health and safety of our residents. We immediately set up a COVID-19 News & Resource section on our website, providing resources on health protocols, government guidelines and response framework, VPCH pandemic updates, and income support resources like CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit).”
Health & Safety of Our Residents
Health and safety of our residents has always been important to us even before the pandemic. To further ensure their well-being, we stepped up our cleaning schedule on high-touch surfaces, added sanitizing stations, reduced our unit-entry maintenance to essential services only, and communicated and educated our residents by posting signs and providing links to online resources on our website.
“With safety measures, we were one of the first providers to open up our reception at the head office. We made use of technologies such as tablets and 2-way audio doorbell devices for our front office so residents that did need to speak to us in person could do so safely,” said Petr Bakus, part of the COVID-Taskforce. “They would ring the door bell, look through the protective plaque glass, and communicate with our receptionist in a safe and protected area.”
Communications is key to ensuring the health and safety of our residents. “We immediately set up a COVID-19 News & Resource section on our website, providing resources on health protocols, government guidelines and response framework, VPCH pandemic updates, and income support resources like CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit)”.
With everyone being asked to stay home for an extended period of time, and with concerns of the mental well-being of residents that live alone; our management team and our staff began initiating wellness calls to our residents.
One of our residents Susan said, “We had a delightful call from Patti this morning to check how we were doing during COVID. So lovely to hear from her! I was quite touched by your caring and investment in our health and how we are doing during this period of time. Thank you”.
Our personal reach-out through the wellness calls was a demonstration of our caring and was appreciated by those we spoke to during this time.
Health & Safety of Our Residents
“One of the biggest challenges when the flags were raised back in March was convincing everyone this was happening and that this was real,” recalls Charlene Thornhill, Chief Operating Officer and member of the COVID-Taskforce. “Sending everybody home was somewhat, for many, scary and sad. However, our staff embraced it and our managers began deciding what are the core essential duties required for continual operation of the organization and what work can be done remotely.”
Implementing physical distancing and safety measures within our offices was critical. We immediately closed all side entry doors, created barriers between desks, implemented contactless service at the front reception, and encouraged all on-site offices with no capacity for social distancing to remain closed.
We updated our unit-entry policy, workplace safety procedures and pandemic response plan. We established back-up roles and cross-training to prevent department outbreaks that might put a hold on operations across the organization and stopped all non-essential maintenance work.
Putting non-essential maintenance work on-hold was at first challenging for some of our staff. They take pride in their work and are accustomed to having all their maintenance work done. “Some of our maintenance staff wanted to complete other work while performing essential maintenance, but the Taskforce had to push back due to safety concerns. We made sure our staff understood that this is not a performance issue, but a health and safety issue”, said Tracey.
“In non-profit housing, we’re always resilient and we don’t bail in any crisis, this pandemic included.”
Health & Safety of Our Residents
During the pandemic we were proactive in how we continued our operations safely. We established and revisited policies, procedures and maintenance guidelines.
Housing providers in other regions reached out to us for the policies and procedures we established, and Victoria Park was asked to present our unit entry policy and share what we’d learned and how we were handling the situation. We were commended on that.
“In non-profit housing, we’re always resilient and we don’t bail in any crisis, this pandemic included. We learned that we have exceptionally strong staff, that form a really good team here at Victoria Park; pulling together when faced with any challenge. We did really well with what we were given. We stayed steps ahead; focused on COVID-19 challenges, the wellness of our staff and contractors, and the well-being of our residents.”
We’re in a fast-changing environment right now. What was good for COVID-protocols yesterday may not be suitable for today, and we’re all learning and adapting together to this new norm.
As an organization providing homes to families and as an employer providing jobs and careers for our staff, we’re proud of how we handled the pandemic in 2020. We’re confident that we will continue to provide a safe workplace and home for our community in 2021.