Repurposing hospitality spaces during COVID-19

Dr. Bonnie Henry and The Hon. Adrian Dix announce use of Vancouver Convention Centre as a backup medical facility.

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

CANADA — The Vancouver Convention Centre will be used as a hospital; Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan governments are working toward use of hotels as hospitals; and the Canadian Navy is seeking a Halifax hotel to house troops.

Governments and associations in certain Canadian provinces are looking at the possibility of using hotel rooms as hospital rooms to help cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Globe and Mail reported April 1 that Canada’s three largest provinces have begun setting up temporary, makeshift hospitals to cope with the expected influx of patients with COVID-19. And Saskatchewan is also including hotels as hospitals in its Emergency Preparedness plan.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced on Monday that the Vancouver Convention Centre will be transformed into a backup medical facility, and that a new tower at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., will also become an offsite medical centre. The health officials noted that the convention centre could hold 271 patient beds, while the Royal Columbian tower has room for 80 beds.

These sites are not intended for patients with COVID-19, but for patients who need other kinds of acute care — those recovering from heart attacks, trauma or other injuries. At Monday’s press conference, Dix stressed that hospitals are not overwhelmed yet: current occupancy in hospitals was at 60.6 per cent and critical care bed occupancy at 53.7 per cent.

ORHMA’s Tony Elenis supports initiative

Tony Elenis, ORHMA.

Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel Motel Association spoke with CLN earlier this week on the subject of hotels being used as hospitals. “The Ministry of Tourism called me and we worked with government to provide a city by city list of our hotels. We fully support this initiative,” he said.

Here’s how it would work. The government does have emergency legislation that could force hotels to house patients, but in this case it is entirely voluntary. The guests would not be serviced by hotel staff, but rather by experts and health care workers. The hotels would receive daily rates, to be agreed upon by the government and the hotel, for the rooms used.

Priority would be given to the following groups: health care workers in hotels near hospitals; independent non-virus-related patients, for example people awaiting hip surgery; people entering the borders who need to self-isolate; and the homeless, as social workers are saying they have no place to go and no one wants to see the virus spread among this demographic. In some of these cases, the services to these guests would be by means that require no employee contact.

Government is co-ordinating city by city which hotels are best suited to handle these patients, i.e., those that are close to hospitals, airports and border crossings.

At this stage, the government is giving hospitals the go-ahead to temporarily lease space in buildings including hotels and retirement homes, The Globe said in its front-page report on Wed., April 1.

Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ont., is also building a 93-bed temporary modular structure that will serve as a pandemic unit to accommodate patients who need treatment for COVID-19, The Globe reported.

Terry Mundell, GTHA

“GTHA is working closely with Public Health officials to find out what they need and where we can provide support,” Terry Mundell, president and CEO of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, told CLN. “We’re in contact, daily sometimes. We are working through governments, and following their lead on that.” He added that it would be amazing if hotels could assist medical workers and staff.

There are some hotels that have already worked with a variety of hospitals, giving support to the hospitals that have reached out to them.

“We’re waiting to get information on where we are needed. We also want to make sure there is some kind of system, and it’s easy for government to go in and say we need help at a specific location. Hotels can then register. Our role is to make sure they get the information they need.”

Terry Mundell, GTHA.

But Mundell sees the GTHA’s role as more than co-ordination. “We are making sure governments understand the problems we face, talking to ministers to ensure they understand what we need. We are providing information and trying to shape programs the government has on the ground, and follow up on the delivery.

“It’s gut-wrenching right now to see the amount of hotels that are closed, with staff laid off or staff still working under difficult conditions. What we are seeing is the strength of the people and the resiliency of the industry. Things will get better, and they’ll bounce back in short order, but it will take time.”

AHQ working with government to provide beds

Imperia Hotel in St-Eustache, Que. Imperia president Jean Caron said his three hotels can offer 250 rooms.

In Quebec, the provincial government has identified up to 4,000 hotel rooms that could be used under its health emergency laws. Xavier Gret, president and CEO of Association Hôtellerie Québec, said recently that Quebec public health was asking hotels across the province to clear beds in anticipation of an overload of the health care system.

“We’re talking about 3,000 to 4,000 beds across the province of Quebec,” Gret said at the time.

Again, the hotels would not be accommodating COVID-19 cases. Rather, they would be for non-infected semi-autonomous patients, in order to make space in hospitals for people who need to be treated for COVID-19. The government has several criteria for the hotels, namely that they have rooms without carpeting, that catering is available, and they are located near a hospital.

Xavier Gret, AHQ.

Gret said the response from his members was overwhelmingly positive. All those who have been contacted have offered to help, with some of them having already made preparations.

Jean-François Caron, the president of Imperia Hotel and Suites with three hotels in the Laurentians and Lanaudière region, said they have 250 rooms ready to accommodate people.

“We really believe that we can take the wheel to get through this emergency,” he said.

It will be up to the Quebec government to decide which establishments will participate in the effort. The hotels will have to negotiate contracts with the government regarding the rates for each room.

Saskatchewan hotels prepare to house patients

The Saskatchewan hotel industry is getting ready to offer up rooms in the event that COVID-19 overwhelms the number of beds available in the province’s hospitals, the Regina Leader-Post reported on Wednesday.

The Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association (SHHA) has created an emergency preparedness plan and shared it with the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). Jim Bence, president of the SHHA, has already had calls with the health ministry and the SHA to discuss how hotels can be utilized if they need to be transformed into field hospitals.

Bence told the Leader-Post the SHHA reached out to its members to ask who would be willing to lend assistance, and heard back from 70 hotels in the province. Bence said it would be up to the health authority to determine which hotels would be most appropriate to use.

Navy to sequester in Halifax hotel

The crews of two Royal Canadian Navy vessels have been ordered to sequester in an unnamed Halifax hotel for two weeks. This came as the government announced that it is ready to quickly mobilize up to 24,000 Canadian troops to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. The troops will be sequestered starting this month to make sure they don’t have coronavirus.

Rear Admiral Craig Baines said that after two weeks, the HMCS Ville de Quebec and the HMCS Moncton and the crew of a maritime helicopter detachment will head out to sea where they will be ready to respond to a domestic emergency if needed. The ships will be ready to respond on short notice to “coastal communities who might need a helping hand,” a Department of National Defence spokesperson said in an email Monday.