Visiting pods no longer vital spaces at many personal-care facilities

They were the right places at the right time, but shipping containers used as long-term care home visitation pods during the pandemic are mostly just taking up space now.

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They were the right places at the right time, but shipping containers used as long-term care home visitation pods during the pandemic are mostly just taking up space now.

The province announced in September 2020 that it was spending just shy of $18 million to convert and install the trailers at facilities to give previously isolated seniors their first opportunities to meet with family and friends since COVID-19 cases and fears of spreading the virus had shut the doors several months earlier.

But after the province relaxed visitor restrictions last spring and people have taken advantage of summer weather to connect outdoors, managers of many residences are hoping to have the containers removed.

Sherry Heppner, development co-ordinator at The Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, is among them.

“It is not serving any useful purpose for us and is definitely taking up valuable green space,” Heppner said.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“It (visitor pods) is not serving any useful purpose for us and is definitely taking up valuable green space,” said Sherry Heppner, development co-ordinator at The Convalescent Home of Winnipeg.

“During the summer months — actually since April — we have not used our pod for family and friend visitations. Once folks could visit outside, for those who wished to, the great outdoors was the absolute preference for everyone. For those who preferred the alternate, or due to inclement weather were forced to, indoor visits were and are accommodated either in our common space areas or a resident’s room.”

Heppner said screening, masking and hand-sanitizing are still required, while visitors are encouraged to wear a mask and/or practise social distancing for outdoor visits.

She said the pod not only blocked most of the natural light into the home’s recreation room, but also took away its courtyard entrance.

“It wasn’t the ultimate in solutions, but based on time and budget dollars committed to find a way to allow residents and family visits in a safe fashion, it served its purpose,” Heppner said.

“It wasn’t the ultimate in solutions, but based on time and budget dollars committed to find a way to allow residents and family visits in a safe fashion, it served its purpose.” – Sherry Heppner

A provincial government spokesman said there are 105 visitation pods outside long term care facilities across Manitoba.

”If a facility wants to keep the shelter, government will transfer ownership to the (long-term care) facility at no cost,” the spokesman said.

“We are compiling input from the LTC facilities about which ones may be interested in future use of the visitation pods. There are two options under review for future use: either being repurposed elsewhere, including areas outside Manitoba Health, or the shelters may be sold.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ottawa has agreed to cover the operating expenses for approximately 105 external and 57 internal shelters at facilities across Manitoba through the Safe Long-Term Care Fund.

Jan Legeros, executive director of the Long Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba, said some places want to keep the visitation pods.

“For many, it is too expensive to operate and too challenging in terms of permits, to pursue keeping them,” Legeros said.

“I know a few wanted to them as the extra space was wonderful. Others felt they did not have enough land to make them aesthetically pleasing to the ‘home-like’ environment we are trying to project.”

Debbie Boissonneault, president of CUPE 204, which represents health-care workers in several long term care homes, said part of the problem with the pods were they were tough to get residents to during winter — and tougher still inside.

“They were just trailers,” Boissonneault said. “They were heated, but they were still trailers. They were cold inside. And only certain residents could use them. I don’t believe they’ve been used for some time.

“There was a time they needed them — people need to see their loved ones — but I don’t know how well they worked.”

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

One of the visitor pods, which will be taken back by the province now that they’re not being used, at the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg.

STEVE LAMBERT / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Actionmarguerite CEO Charles Gagne, left to right, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen, PCL Winnipeg district manager Monique Buckberger and Manitoba Central Services Minister Reg Helwer attend the unveiling of personal care home all-season visitation shelters in Winnipeg in 2020.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Dorothy Fontaine visits her mother, Marie Bell, in the “pod” at the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg.

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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