Coronavirus: Retired homicide detective, son volunteer at Markham home for disabled adults

Click to play video: 'Retired homicide detective now serving community in fight against COVID-19' Retired homicide detective now serving community in fight against COVID-19
WATCH ABOVE: Catherine McDonald spoke with the former cop and his son about their volunteer experience at Participation House Markham – Apr 21, 2020

John Biggerstaff used to investigate deaths, now the retired homicide detective says he is trying to prevent them.

Biggerstaff said he read a message from a friend on social media, just before Easter, that several staff members had walked off the job at Participation House in Markham, a home for adults with disabilities.

“It seemed like it was such a crisis that something in me said, ‘You know we need to get on the frontline here,’” said Biggerstaff.

On April 9, the staff was told about an outbreak of COVID-19. It caused workers, fearing for their own safety, to walk off the job. Only the executive director and four other managers were left to care for all 42 residents.

READ MORE: Outbreak at Markham group home for adults with disabilities turns deadly

Retired in 2011 from the Toronto police and now working as a paralegal, John discussed the matter with his 21-year-old son Jack and his wife. That’s when he and his son decided to see how they could help out.

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“When he (John) said we should do this, I was like, “OK, I’m on board,” explained Jack.

For nine of the past ten days, the father and son have been working nine-hour shifts doing everything from feeding, bathing and changing diapers for residents.

They also carry out the important task of connecting residents with their loved ones virtually.

The pair were originally helping out with seven residents, but one has now gone to hospital.

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Participation House issued an update on Tuesday and said 39 of the 42 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. It was previously announced two of those residents died after being diagnosed with the virus. Twenty-one staff members have also tested positive.

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John said he does not blame the staff who left, understanding that they have their own families to worry about. But neither John nor Jack said they feel unsafe working at the facility.

They said they are wearing full personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, gloves and gowns. They learned how to properly don their protective gear when they started.

READ MORE: ‘Critical’ staffing levels remain at Markham group home where most staff walked out

“I feel safer walking in there knowing almost everyone has it. Wearing the safety equipment, I feel safer than going into a grocery store,” said Jack.

Both said they are sleeping on separate floors of their Markham home and social distancing from John’s wife.

As for what this volunteer stint has taught them, John said it has taught them “an extremely different life lesson.”

“This has exposed him (Jack) to a side of life most people don’t get to see. It’s inspired him,” he said.

READ MORE: Markham care home taking applications amid staffing shortage, COVID-19 outbreak

Jack said he is still trying to figure out what to do next in life, finishing off his last high school credit.

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“It shows me an appreciation for people who work in these care homes, hospitals, frontline workers,” he said.

As for the residents, Jack said enjoys going to work.

“They’re all characters in their own way, and they’re all very friendly — the residents and the staff there,” he said.

“Walking in there, I feel happier than I do at home.”

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