Decommissioning Manitoba’s over-budget personal care home visitation pods will cost $5M

It will cost about $5 million to remove more than a hundred all-season outdoor shelters that were installed earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure residents in Manitoba’s personal care homes could have visits with loved ones, according to tender documents.

The provincial organization Shared Health, which was tasked by Manitoba Health to manage the removal of 105 exterior visitation pods across the province, issued a request for proposals last Tuesday for a construction manager to co-ordinate the work of moving them.

The exterior visitation pods are affecting exit pathways and sidewalks, along with security, fire alarm and card access systems at care homes, so “there is expertise needed to oversee this complex restoration work,” wrote a spokesperson for Shared Health.

This comes after a CBC report that revealed the province was seeking bids through a separate expression of interest, issued in March, that would result in 105 of the under-utilized external visitation pods — which were constructed from shipping containers — either being donated, auctioned off to the highest bidder or demolished and recycled as scrap.

The call for bids to determine the future of the pods is still in effect, while the additional request for proposals involves moving the pods away from care homes and restoring areas they were placed in.

Julie Turenne-Maynard, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Residential Community Care Homes for the Elderly, says she doesn’t know of any MARCHE members that will be keeping the visitation pods.

“They’re just hoping that the province, who got them to put them there, will take the responsibility to remove them,” said Turenne-Maynard, whose group represents private non-profit corporations that run seniors’ housing, including personal care homes.

A headshot shows a woman with short blond hair wearing glasses.
Julie Turenne-Maynard is the executive director of the Manitoba Association of Residential Community Care Homes for the Elderly, or MARCHE. (JTM_mb/Twitter)

The pods are currently not being used because funding for staffing them was cut, according to Turenne-Maynard. 

“If they can’t be using them, then they may as well be removed from their property.”

The visitation rooms at Winnipeg’s care homes were used an average of 2.7 times per day from December to February 2021, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

The total cost for the visitation shelter project, which also included 57 interior pods, was originally pegged at $18 million, but ballooned to nearly $73 million in capital and operating costs, a government spokesperson said.

Turenne-Maynard said family visits with residents were important during COVID-19 restrictions, but there may have been more effective ways of doing it.

“At the time, government felt that they had to move forward with [visitation pods] in order to respond to demand,” she said.

“Whether we like it or not, they were providing a mechanism to enable residents and families to see each other.” 

Shared Health’s request for proposals says it chose to use a construction management delivery model to complete the project “on time and on budget” by “maximizing value, maintaining transparency and prioritizing the best interests of [Manitoba Health] at all times.”

A grey metal door is shown at the end of a hallway lined with faux wood pannelling.
The pods were designed to fit one resident and up to five visitors. The visitation rooms at Winnipeg’s care homes were used an average of 2.7 times per day from December to February 2021, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

The RFP sets out a timeline for getting rid of the pods.

Pre-construction work is anticipated to start the second week of May, and the project is slated to be completed by the end of September. 

As for the amount of money sunk into the project, Turenne-Maynard accepts that what’s done is done, and says MARCHE members are eager to get their buildings back to pre-pandemic condition. 

“It’s a lot of money, but you can’t cry over spilled milk. It is what it is.”

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