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As Health Crisis Worsens, Hotels are Being Asked to Accept Overflow Of Hospital Patients

TORONTO ─ Amidst a worsening healthcare crisis and the possibility of looming shortages of hospital beds, hotels may be asked to house an overflow of hospital patients affected by COVID-19. In Quebec, that possibility became a reality recently as three hotels in that province have stepped up to house hospital patients. 

When asked about this possibility during a special KML podcast last week, Susie Grynol, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada, confirmed that as the health crisis worsens, hotels could be asked to shelter more sick Canadians as well as vulnerable members of society. 

“The province of Quebec has reached out …right now it’s three properties near hospitals where they anticipate they could have a shortage that will need overflow,” says Grynol. 

In a March 29, CBC News story by John Tasker, Xavier Gret, president and CEO of the Association Hộtellerie Québec, AHQ, stated there are 3,000 to 4,000 beds available across the province, but mentioned the hotels will not be accommodating COVID-19 cases. Instead, they will be used for non-infected semi-autonomous patients, to allow hospital space for people who need to be treated for COVID-19. Palliative care and mental-health patients were the first to be moved.

The government has various criteria that must be met before hotels can be considered: they must not have carpeting, catering must be available and hotels must be located near a hospital.

According to Grynol, government requests are “being handled at the provincial level. There’s been a number of preliminary conversations. Every provincial government and agency is planning for the worst-case scenario and hotels may be part of the solution.”

Grynol says hotels “prepared to come forward on this are doing so because it’s the right thing to do, recognizing, however, they’ll likely have a more-difficult time to recover after this, as they might be viewed as having been a COVID hospital.  At the end of the day, says the HAC president, “both industry and government are exploring how do we prepare for the worst. But it’s not only hotels being considered; government is looking at all sorts of other options as well, to make sure we’re prepared.”

Terry Mundell, president of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, says his group has “had some conversations both provincially and municipally around this issue. We don’t know where we are with that yet. It’s one which is difficult but all in the mindset of preparing for the worst. I think hotels would come to the table. But clearly, we’re taking the lead from Public Health.” 

According to Tony Elenis, president of Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, he’s had preliminary conversations with the Minister of Tourism about the need to house certain groups in hotels based on a worsening situation. These include people who want to be isolated because of their symptoms, “are directed to be isolated, the homeless or individuals with health issues that are non-virus related.”

Throughout the health crisis, several hotels have housed guests who need to be quarantined. As Grynol explains: “There’s two scenarios currently taking place ─ the first is a quarantine situation and this is happening in a small number of properties, six right now, who are connected to the four major airports that the government is now funneling in all international travel. For travellers coming through the airports who are given a red light, Public Health is putting them into quarantine, and has arrangements with a couple of hotels where they would have people go to the hotel for a 14-day quarantine.”

In those circumstances, explains Grynol, Public Health does everything. “Those individuals are in isolated portions of the hotel. They don’t even go in the front door; they go in the back door. They stay there the entire time. Room service is dropped off at the door. It’s cleaned by a special third-party company that comes in; they bring in their own linens and take the linens out when they’re done. Then they change the air system. It’s a very locked in, tight process that does not deliver any risk to any other guests or employees that would be in the same facilities. We’re not going to see a lot of volume on this ─ basically what they’re to do is just getting people home.”

With regard to self-isolation, Grynol says “there are individuals, who for a variety of reasons ─ whether they’re frontline responders in the health-care system, or who feel as though they have symptoms and don’t want to infect their families ─ are finding their way into hotels. Hotels are managing those situations as best they can, on the ground, and there’s been a number of protocols put in place to ensure everyone remains safe. Hotels are asking people to be transparent about why they’re checking and if they do plan to be handling quarantine circumstances. Those same protocols have been shared with hotels as to how Public Health would deal with it. Hotels will make the decision when people check in whether or not they accept people who want to self-isolate,” says Grynol.

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