Manitoulin’s community isolation centre preparations continue

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Centralized supportive care centre may become best option

MANITOULIN – Work is continuing across Manitoulin Island to prepare community-based isolation centres for stable COVID-19 patients who are below urgent care status but are not yet ready to return home, though some material challenges have led Island leaders to begin considering a centralized setup rather than having each community host a centre of their own.

“A number of communities have isolation centres in various states of readiness,” said Derek Debassige, a M’Chigeeng physiotherapist and a member of the team working to prepare community isolation centres across Manitoulin. These facilities are also termed supportive care centres.

One of the challenges, he said, was that in preparing for the first wave of the virus, many communities planned to use shuttered seasonal businesses as potential isolation centres. 

Now that the summer has arrived, those businesses are starting to reopen and communities have to find other venues for these services.

The communities in the District of Manitoulin that are exploring these centres have been hosting weekly meetings to keep each other apprised of their readiness levels and to discuss and work through the challenges they face.

“It’s still just a lot of resource sharing at this point, as well as policy and procedure development,” said Mr. Debassige. “Our plans are to have these resources shared, like an information sheet; depending on what community (a patient is) coming from, they can know what options are available.”

As shared in last week’s Expositor, M’Chigeeng’s plans to use the arena at the community complex for an isolation centre were stymied by a ventilation system that connected to other units in the plaza, posing health risks to the other units.

That community is now considering the feasibility of using a robust all-season tent, similar to the one employed as a testing centre in Wiikwemkoong.

Every community planning to launch an isolation centre faces similar, substantial obstacles in both human resources and insurance considerations.

Similar to the field hospital, there is no funding currently available for isolation centres. Even field hospitals will only be funded if case counts surge, but in rural areas especially these facilities must be ready to operate before a surge because of the longer timeframe involved in setting them up.

Manitoulin Island’s closest-to-launch isolation centre is at the Assiginack Arena in Manitowaning.

Assiginack Family Health Team executive director Sandra Pennie told The Expositor that the planning for that facility continues with the hope that it will not be needed. She added that finding people to staff the space will be more challenging once the field hospital opens, placing further burden on the Island’s finite health care human resources.

Ms. Pennie urged caution in the near future.

“The next couple of weeks will really tell the story; as you may have noticed, there is a lot of traffic on the Island now and as things open up more, we may see a surge. We have done so well so far in this pandemic but it is nowhere near done and we need to stay strong and continue to do the good work we have been doing,” she said.

The facility is waiting for oxygen concentrators and has a limited supply of personal protective equipment, like many other places, but it is currently at a standby state such that it could be put into operation with 24 hours’ notice.

Other communities have also been preparing isolation centres. Gore Bay is reportedly evaluating a shared venue with West End communities and M’Chigeeng is preparing the Saswaahns Centre as an isolation site, said Mr. Debassige.

WRFN health manager Angela Shawanda confirmed that a new unit in the community, originally built as an elders’ residence, has been prepared with five beds. She also shared WRFN’s community isolation plan with the supportive care centre group.

The Municipality of Central Manitoulin has also engaged in talks with a motel to procure five rooms away from others for use as potential supportive care spaces, said Mayor Richard Stephens.

The limited PPE and human resources are just some of the reasons why the partnering communities are beginning to assess whether or not a centralized isolation centre would be better for the Island. One possible structure for that purpose would be a robust all-weather tent building. 

Mr. Debassige acknowledged that provincial numbers do not immediately point to there being a dire need at present, but cautioned that significant outbreaks can still occur at a local level regardless of what is happening across the province. This, he said, is why it is important to prepare now.