When Brenda Cator walks down the long hallway from her room at Huronia Guest Home to the outdoor patio so she can have a cigarette, the exposed subfloor she walks on reeks of urine.
Cator is one of 27 residents frustrated by the conditions of their assisted-living house 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 of the residents and staff of the home are fed up and stressed. Yet, many say they have nowhere else to go.
“I’ve seen a lot in the past two months. I’d never seen a bed bug before I moved here,” Cator said.
Huronia Guest Home is a privately-owned assisted living facility that is home to 27 residents. The home employs 10 staff to assist residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Prior to moving into the home two months ago, Cator had lived on her own in Wasaga Beach, but she is partially paralyzed in her left leg which means she requires a brace and walker to get around. She turned to assisted-living options to help.
“I’m not able to look after myself. I need assisted living,” she said.
Cator is on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), and says based on her personal circumstances, she only keeps $149 monthly from her payouts with the rest going directly to the home.
According to Clearview Township’s bylaw department, the township has received complaints expressing concern over the conditions at Huronia Guest Home.
Joe Paddock, the township’s supervisor of bylaw enforcement, says fire inspections have been completed in the past and the property owner has updated deficiencies accordingly. The township is currently working with the property owner on addressing an ongoing bed-bug infestation, he said.
“As of this date, the owner has not complied with the Property Standards Order,” Paddock told CollingwoodToday. “A pest control company has been engaged to treat the property. They have not started yet, but we should have a date this week for when the treatment is to begin.
“The township intends to monitor and to continue working with the property owner,” he added.
In the meantime, Cator says her room isn’t the worst for bedbugs, but they permeate into the bedding and dining areas.
As of Jan. 5, staff at the home told CollingwoodToday that three of the home's residents had moved out.
Even if Cator were able to find other suitable accommodations, she won’t be able to take any of her personal items with her due to the bedbug infestation.
“I don’t like change. All my family has stairs and they all work. They thought they were putting me somewhere that was safe, and I am. And I’m happy,” said Cator. “Hopefully somebody buys it.”
Candice Moncrieff, the cook at Huronia Guest House, has worked at the home off and on for four years in different roles. She says she hasn’t been paid since Dec. 16, and even then she says it was a partial payment.
For her, she says problems with the food at the facility started in May when the home had a COVID-19 outbreak. As a result of that outbreak, she says their regular food supplier would no longer deliver, so the owner resorted to purchasing food from Costco weekly to feed the residents.
“The food was coming in then,” she said. “The supply started dwindling. A (food bank) in Collingwood started giving us fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Over time, Moncrieff says the owner saw the donations and started buying less and less food to supplement. At this point, Moncrieff says she only receives bologna and bread with which to craft all the meals at the home.
“I’m angry, and I'm hurt. I try to follow a balanced diet for these folks, like a salad and fresh fruit. I can’t do that with bread and bologna,” she said.
“We haven’t been paid,” added Moncrieff, her voice breaking with emotion, noting that the staff have stayed anyway because they don’t feel right abandoning the residents who rely on them for day-to-day 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 horrible. These people deserve better.”
Cator also referenced the issues with food at the home.
“I’d never even been to a food bank before. I used to donate to the food bank. I always thought that should be for people who really need it,” said Cator. “The girls here do the best they can with what they have. They bring in food from home.”
Moncrieff says since a Facebook post outlining the difficulties of the home made the rounds around Christmas time, the home has been inundated with food donations from the Clearview, Wasaga Beach and Collingwood communities, which has helped her to create more balanced meals. However, without knowing what’s coming day-to-day, she says it can be a challenge to create a menu.
Randy McKay has lived at Huronia Guest Home for 19 years. Confined to a wheelchair, McKay says the changes over the past year have been major.
“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,” said McKay, alleging bedbugs have been a presence at the home for at least five years.
McKay said the issue of adequate food has been a problem for about three months. He says he’s appreciative of the community providing food donations to try to help the situation.
“They’re keeping us afloat, for now,” said McKay. “It’s not right. People are leaving. These are my friends. I’m trying to find another place.”
He says the possibility of leaving the place he’s called home for 19 years comes with its own set of challenges.
“I feel very sad. I’ll have to leave most of my stuff behind because you can’t take bug-infested stuff with you,” he said.
“The staff here is great. They will bend over backward to try to help you,” said McKay. “Hopefully something will be done soon.”
Sonia Milizia has lived at the home for two months, moving in after leaving a Barrie shelter.
“We’re suffering. We’re not eating,” she said. “It’s just not right.”
However, Milizia is another resident who has no other option.
“I have nowhere to go right now,” said Milizia. “This place needs to get fixed.”
Although Huronia Guest House is listed online as an assisted-living facility and retirement home, when contacted by CollingwoodToday on Thursday, the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority which oversees retirement homes across Ontario said the home was refused a retirement home licence in 2012.
“The applicant appealed the decision of the registrar to refuse its licence to the Licence Appeal Tribunal. The appeal was discontinued as the home has ceased to operate as a retirement home within the definition set out in the Retirement Homes Act,” notes the information on the home on the RHRA website.
“To confirm, this congregate setting is not a licensed retirement home and as such we do not have regulatory authority,” wrote an authority spokesperson in an email to CollingwoodToday.
Assisted living is defined as a home-like environment with care services included in the service fee. As the home isn’t licensed as a retirement home and is privately run, when asked, staff say they aren’t sure where to turn for recourse.
When contacted on Thursday, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) said they are working with the facility and acknowledged the concerns are part of their purview, but did not provide details as to the nature of their investigation.
"SMDHU conducts food safety inspections, annual licensing inspections in licensed facilities, and complaint investigations of public health concerns of assisted-living facilities," wrote media spokesperson for the SMDHU Heather Howe in an email to CollingwoodToday.
"The health unit has followed up and continues to work with the facility based on requests for health unit assistance and is in ongoing communication with other community agencies who are responding to the situation within their respective mandates," she said.
The owners of Huronia Guest Home did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent by email, phone and social media for this story by publication time.