Earl Baird says he has many favourite memories of his younger sister, Patty, who was born with Down syndrome. He says she was known for her “wicked dance moves” and being an avid foodie.
But, most of all, he says she loved everyone unconditionally.
Patty Baird, 53, died last month at Markham Stouffville Hospital due to COVID-19 after an outbreak infected approximately 10 residents of Participation House in Markham, Ont. Earl says when COVID-19 first appeared in the news, he knew his sister would be at risk of contracting the virus.
“They were receiving some information from the management at Participation House regarding the COVID situation and everybody freaked out and basically abandoned the 42 residents that were in Participation House,” Earl explains. “That obviously raised alarm – (I) tried to go down there to seek out any information that we could get.”
Patty lived at Participation House for more than five years. Earl says Patty was only about 15-minutes away from his home in Stouffville, which made it easier for him to visit.
However, announcements of a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility prompted the majority of staff to walk off the job in the first two weeks of April. This left 42 residents, some with serious physical and mental challenges, with only four staff members to care for them.
Patty Baird was one such patient.
The Chronicle reached out to Participation House for comment, but received no response.
On April 24, Participation House released a statement saying another resident of the home had died due to COVID-19. Ray Johnston was 70.
Earl says his family is still trying to uncover the exact timeline of when Patty became sick.
Patty was born with Down syndrome and had a history of brachial issues that were impacted by her weight, according to Earl. He and his wife, Louise, received the call that Patty had tested positive for the virus on April 14.
She died the following day.
“It went quite rapidly. She had no symptoms of fever and that’s been a big conversation in our family, particularly my wife and I,” says Earl. “The fact of just measuring people’s temperatures is a pile of junk.”
Before her passing, Louise volunteered at Participation House to help supplement the staff, despite not having a background in healthcare. By chance, she was able to care for Patty for a short time before she was sent to Markham Stouffville Hospital.
“It’s a fine line to want obviously the safety of the actual individual who’s working in there and they have families at home, we all understand,” says Earl. “Not just us, there’s no doubt they failed a fair amount of people.”
Earl’s other sister, Jo-anne Baird, was Patty’s primary guardian. He says family members are devastated by Patty’s death as they were unable to visit her.
“My sister particularly, she basically took the role of our mother. And being her only sister, obviously that’s a pretty intimate relationship to begin with,” says Earl. “Just the sorrow of not being able to be with her at that time, it was a lot on top of every other grieving process.”
Rachelle Baird is a graduate of Durham College’s (DC) Journalism – Mass Media program. She is the niece of both Patty and Earl and says she will remember her aunt fondly.
“She really loved playing like Barbies, she had a huge selection of them,” says Rachelle. “She was super sweet – she just always wanted to hold your hand.”
While Patty’s death has been hard on Earl and his family, he says he wants his sister to be remembered for who she is, not the virus.
“I would love for her to be remembered as a woman who just lives in the moment. Who can give unlimited amounts of love unconditionally,” says Earl. “There’s a person who actually walked in light of love and shared it with everybody she possibly could.”