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Canad Inns property has personal meaning for owner

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The idea for the development of Canad Inns 12th hotel on the campus of Health Sciences Centre was very personal for the company's president and owner, Leo Ledohowski.

When his mother was hospitalized for an extended period of time 10 years ago, Ledohowski never had any problems with the level of care she received, but he realized there were challenges for the friends and families of hospital patients coming from out of town.

He also foresaw such a project as a way for him to give something back to the community.

"The hope is that a hotel like this will take some of the fear and anxiety out of the hospital visit," Ledohowski said.

About eight years and $40 million later, Canad Inns Destination Centre Health Sciences Centre had its official opening on Monday, and by all accounts, it's now more than just a community-minded pet project for the boss.

Canad Inns' newest property at HSC is the first and only hotel in Canada that is fully integrated on-site with a hospital, but it may very well become a more recognizable feature on hospital campuses across the country in the future.

Ledohowski said the company has already been receiving queries from other hospitals asking about the possibility of building elsewhere.

"There are others talking to us," he said. "There is interest from across the country and we have a had a few requests, but we really want to get this one up and running first."

The 191-room, 16-storey building on William Avenue is wedged close by HSC's adult emergency department and the Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine.

The hotel includes two full-service restaurants and a Starbucks coffee shop as well as 5,000 square feet of meeting space.

There is no commercial association between the hotel and the HSC but clearly the hospital administration is keen to have the amenity as part of its portfolio of offerings.

Arlene Wilgosh, president and CEO of HSC, said the hotel is an innovative way to improve patient care.

"We have a mandate with our board of directors to enhance the patient experience," she said.

"This beautiful facility will provide patients and families with an enhanced experience under trying times."

HSC has about 12,000 patients from out of town every year -- it is Manitoba's largest hospital with a patient catchment area from Nunavut to northwestern Ontario -- and there is a growing number of visiting doctors, scientists and medical professionals, all of whom the hotel hopes to be able to draw business from.

"In addition to a place to stay for patients' families this fulfils a need we have here for meeting space and a place to stay for researchers who come to the University of Manitoba (medical school)," said Wilgosh.

Canad Inns officials, including Lea Ledohowski, the daughter of the president and project manager of the HSC property, said there were some very challenging development issues to overcome, such as the fact the project was under development when the global financial crisis hit and the tight physical-space constraints.

At one point the challenges almost scuttled the project entirely, she admitted.

"We went through a period where the viability was really in question because of the original structural design," she said.

The solution was using driven piles instead of a deep foundation for the 16-storey building.

While there has already been a big thumbs-up from hospital staff who now have a couple of nice new spots for lunch and coffee, the operation of a hotel in such a venue required a bit of a rethink in terms of the operation.

For instance, some of the 300-plus staff received empathy training in partnership with Ronald McDonald House.

"We have to reprogram a lot of our service," said the hotel's general manager, Colin McBeath. "About 70 per cent of the people coming in essentially don't want to be here. This is not your typical hotel. There are lots of people who are stressed and anxious. It is unique. You have to rewrite the book on how to do training and open a hotel."

But there are also some interesting potential opportunities. McBeath said the hotel will not provide room-service meals to hospital patients because of case-by-case dietary restrictions, but he did say the hotel can cater to patients who don't have such restrictions.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2013 B4

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Updated on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 6:39 AM CDT: changes headline, replaces photo

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