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On the same day a St. Boniface personal care home was added to the growing list of nursing homes forced to ban visitors owing to COVID-19, the province revealed its solution to the problem: a pod.
Ninety shipping containers or "all-season visitation shelters" are being repurposed and shipped to personal care homes. They'll have room for one resident and as many as five visitors at a time. The first one should be set up and ready to go in the coming weeks, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Tuesday outside PCL Constructors Ltd., which was awarded a $17.9-million contract to outfit the containers.
"It's made in Manitoba by Manitobans for Manitobans," said Friesen, who in June said the province wanted to find a way for nursing home residents to visit with their loved ones year-round while keeping people safe from COVID-19.
"Doing nothing was not an option," Friesen said in a rare display of emotion.
"Residents in these homes are often the most vulnerable to the virus," he said, offering condolences to the families of the nearly 7,000 care home residents who've died in Ontario and Quebec, as well as the loved ones of four residents who died during an outbreak in Bethesda Place in Steinbach.
Early in the pandemic, when deaths at nursing homes in Eastern Canada made daily headlines, Manitoba suspended visits at all 127 personal care homes. That restriction wasn't lifted until the spring, when outdoor visits were allowed. Now, residents are allowed two designated caregivers for indoor visits — except at personal care homes where a "critical" code red has been imposed by public health under its pandemic response system.
On Tuesday, 10 Manitoba personal care homes were listed as "critical" and had banned visitors after at least one worker tested positive for COVID-19. Four of the homes are in Brandon, one is in Steinbach (Bethesda Place) and five are in Winnipeg, including Actionmarguerite in St. Boniface.
"Going through the next 14 days, we're going to be completely in a code red." – Actionmarguerite CEO Charles Gagne
"Going through the next 14 days, we're going to be completely in a code red," CEO Charles Gagne said in an interview at the news conference to announce the visitation pods. "The building itself (at 185 Rue Despins), will cease its visitations until we're cleared," said Gagne, who expects to have one of the first visitation pods set up this fall.
"It could be helpful, to the extent that it could allow for some visitation, because we had to stop everything," said Gagne. He said the shelters, which have a five-year life span, will be useful during flu season when visits inside a care home may be suspended to protect vulnerable residents.
The 40-foot "visitation pods" are insulated, heated and air-conditioned. They incorporate a germicidal UVC lighting system, said Monique Buckberger, Winnipeg district manager of PCL.
They will have separate entrances for visitors and residents. Visitors to the pods will enter from outside the personal care home.
The entrance for residents will be from inside the nursing home. with a connection that's sheltered to protect them from the elements.
Residents will enter the pod from inside the nursing home via a sheltered connection.
Friesen wouldn't say when or where the first pods will be in place.
They are expected to be operational by November, said Central Services Minister Reg Helwer.
Work continues to develop an indoor visitation room at some sites, he said.
Those involve facilities where visitors can easily access the space from outside the personal care home and maintain the same public health requirements as the outdoor shelters. A request-for-proposals issued by the province said those spaces need to be in place by Oct. 20.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
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