Rodents, contaminated food force closure of St. Thomas, Ont., group home

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Walnut Manor, a private group home in St. Thomas, Ont., has been ordered closed by Southwestern Public Health after an inspection that followed an exterior fire at the building in May.   (Facebook - image credit)
Walnut Manor, a private group home in St. Thomas, Ont., has been ordered closed by Southwestern Public Health after an inspection that followed an exterior fire at the building in May. (Facebook - image credit)

Horrific living conditions including a rodent infestation, food contamination and issues with mould have prompted public health officials to close a private group home serving seniors in St. Thomas, Ont.

Southwestern Public Health issued the closure order for Walnut Manor under Ontario's Health Protection and Promotion Act after an inspection that followed an exterior fire at the building in May.

Inspectors found fire code violations, a bedbug infestation, and problems with the supply of hot and cold water, that have since been fixed.

Health officials are now working to find alternate accommodation for the home's 26 residents, many of whom have special needs.

"We recognize their confusion, anxiety and worry," said Dan Logie, of the Canadian Mental Health Association Elgin-Middlesex, who is working to provide housing and services for the displaced residents.

The inspections started after the minor May fire.

Kim Destun of the St. Thomas Fire Department said violations that were found include fire separation doors that failed to close properly, and issues with the home's fire safety escape plan and employee training.

That prompted an interior inspection by health officials.

Destun said the building was last inspected in 2019, when some minor issues were flagged, but nothing of the severity found following the May fire.

Home's conditions raised at Queen's Park

Conditions at Walnut Manor have been flagged before, particularly during debate at Queen's Park around legislation that would bring in licensing for privately run group homes. Currently, they are not regulated by the province, which critics say leads to dangerous conditions for residents.

Welland NDP MPP Jeff Burch mentioned conditions at Walnut Manor at Queen's Park last year. Burch shared the story of Karen Barry, a Sarnia woman whose father was a resident at Walnut Manor.

During the debate, Burch mentioned many of the problems at Walnut Manor that health officials found in this recent inspection: A rodent and bedbug infestation and problems with the hot water supply. Burch also mentioned food shortages and garbage left to pile up.

In 2014, a fire at People Helping People, a private group home in London, killed a 72-year-old man and prompted the southwestern Ontario city to create its own licensing. But licensing at the provincial level is not in place.

Burch said that leaves residents vulnerable, in particular those who have special needs but don't qualify for a bed in regulated long-term care homes or other facilities.

"Many people end up there simply because they fall through the cracks," he said. "The lack of oversight of these services for our most vulnerable citizens have in some cases resulted in physical harm and, tragically, even death."

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