Jordan: At the heart of today’s topic is a problem that Canada will hopefully never face. But you just have to look around the world to see how devastating it can be when it does happen.
News Clip: In a muddy field outside Wuhan, an army of bulldozers is breaking ground racing to build up a thousand bed hospital to treat victims of the Corona virus. The cargo aboard this freight train is far from the usual bags and suitcases. This high-speed service has been requisitioned for medical use. The makeshift hospital in the Javits Center now is taking patients and there is another field hospital going up, this one in Central Park.
Jordan: If COVID- 19 spikes again and overwhelms our health care system, Canadian officials will have to act quickly. They will need to create a task force and develop a plan to handle the overflow. Who will put that plan together? How fast can they do it? Where will the building go? Where will the beds go? Where will the nurses dress? How does a field hospital come together? Well, sitting on some of their desks will be a very Canadian document to help them figure that out. Because it turns out that almost every place in Canada, from our biggest cities to our smallest towns, has a facility that is ready and waiting to be turned into a makeshift hospital. I mean, you can probably guess what that is, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. The story of how this plan came together, though, and exactly what would need to be done to execute it, well, that’s also very Canadian. And so right after Claire gives us an update on COVID-19 in Canada today, I am pleased to present a very good news story, both because of the fact that this document exists, and because, so far at least, it looks like it won’t be needed. So Claire, how are we doing?
Claire: Canada marked a grim milestone on Monday topping 5,000 deaths from COVID-19 and most of those, more than 3000, are in Quebec. Despite this, schools in Quebec outside of the Montreal area have reopened with restrictions in place. Schools in Montreal are set to reopen May 25th. In British Columbia, phase two of the reopening plan will start next week, if the COVID-19 situation there remains as steady as it’s been. So phase two means some businesses will be allowed to reopen with some restrictions in place and people will be allowed to gather in groups of up to six people after the Victoria Day long weekend. BC’s Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry cautioned everyone to be patient and calm in the coming weeks. Ontario saw another day of decline in cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and the provinces chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said, the province is anticipating whether or not it can begin the next phase of recovery. Despite this, Ontario’s state of emergency is expected to be extended today until June 2nd. As of Monday evening, 69,981 cases of COVID-19 in Canada with 5,100 deaths.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Kenny Smith is the managing principal of an engineering firm called Integral Group. And he started down a long process that led to an interesting, potentially very Canadian solution to a problem. Hi, Kenny.
Kenny: Hi. How are you?
Jordan: I’m doing all right, thanks. My first question for you is just, how did the group that began this process come together and what was its original intention?
Kenny: You know, I think about a weekend to working from home or a couple of weeks in, I was at home one night and I just started thinking about, you know, how can we respond as a design, construction, operations community to kind of help what’s going on in the world, and more locally within our community. My wife is a nurse at Sick Kids. So I also started getting a bit of a fear around, if additional facilities or temporary facilities were needed, you know, if they’re put up too quickly or a certain way, it may actually create another area of risk for people working within them. So I just started thinking about how can we respond for the right reasons as a community. And I reached out, I just kind of reached out to some, some people on LinkedIn and made an open call just to whoever was interested, whoever was willing to, you know, put forward their own personal time, to help, right across our industry. So everything from, you know, architecture engineering, fabrication, construction, operations, everything. Just kind of put it out there. And the response was fantastic. A lot of people responded, I think people were kind of looking for an opportunity to help in any way they could. And this gave them this platform to do it. So a lot of people responded and we just kind of kicked it off and started it from there, really. Moving beyond that, we started speaking to some people on the user side, trying to understand the actual needs of healthcare professionals, the hospitals, and the timelines. Cause, you know, we’re, we’re used to designing and constructing to some pretty lengthy timelines. So, you know, right out the gate, they told us, you know, these things, if they’re needed, would need to be implemented within kind of two to three weeks. So it creates this very, very fast rapid requirement. We realized that we essentially had a week to try and pull something together with the team. Yeah. So then we kicked it off and started going.
Jordan: What was the first step, I guess, in that process and what were you considering as you sort of looked around at what might be available?
Kenny: It was quite crazy. I mean, I think usually you’ve got some more time to really reflect and gather ideas across, you know, many different groups. In this scenario, you’ve got a lot of people that have amazing ideas, but you also have to make decisions very quickly to try and move things forward. So the first step was just kind of committing to a building type and kind of moving forward with a design and a construction approach for that building type.
Jordan: How many different kinds of buildings did you look at and what was the criteria that you had?
Kenny: So I think initially we started thinking on a large scale. When you saw what was happening across the rest of the world, in the UK, in the United States, where there were retrofitting, you know, major convention centres, arenas, airports, we first started thinking about that. And then after speaking to the healthcare user groups up front, we realized that maybe a more scalable solution would be better. Based on the needs as they came in. So something that wasn’t necessarily too large scale, something that was more a medium scale that we could actually implement some better measures to control the clinical functions of that space, the air movement, things like that. So we first started considering large, and then we started thinking, what is a good kind of building type on that medium scale that could be easily replicated, you know, first of all, locally, but then essentially anywhere in Canada? You know, we thought about hotels. There was a really good opportunity with hotels for people who couldn’t self isolate, people who couldn’t get into shelters. We could, you know, accommodate the needy and the people that need to be helped and they could, you know, safely self isolate. But in terms of a clinical function, it’s kind of hard to, with the constant clean down and maintaining the conditions in that space. So yeah. We kind of landed very quickly on arenas, and then very quickly on ice arenas and, you know, it was very Canadian response. They are located all over the community and all over Canada. And the buildings themselves, although there’s variations of them, the main components of these buildings don’t really differ that much. So you have the kind of ice arena where the washrooms are, entrance ways, seating areas, Zamboni entrances, you know, these are all things that remain pretty consistent across any facility. So if we could create a designer or a response around one, it could easily be replicated across any. So I think that’s how we kind of whittled it down and came to that building type.
Jordan: So I think everybody listening can kind of picture either a professional hockey arena or their own local arena with the same kind of characteristics. When you’re starting with that, what do you then have to do in order to convert it into something that can really help patients and also maintain safety? Like what does that actually look like on the ground if you were to put this into action?
Kenny: I mean, the first thing you’ve got to consider is what are the clinical functions? You know, what’s it going to be used for? What do the healthcare professionals need in that space? And then kind of how do you separate out the building to maintain separation between kind of clean supplies, dirty supplies? How do you maintain separation between people? And processing people kind of coming in and leaving? So we very quickly came to a consensus with the team, with some amazing health care planners, about how do we kind of chop up the space in very kind of basic terms, to separate and maintain these functions. So it was really using that main ice arena space to have patients fitted and in beds comfortably that could be checked on and could be tended to. And then some of the exterior spaces could be fitted out for the healthcare professionals, storage of supplies, and then maintain some of the base building functions. So still maintaining the washroom areas and the change rooms for healthcare professionals and patients alike. And then in the exterior spaces, you know, most of these locations are surrounded by parking. There’s usually space around them. So we had opportunities to also include for temporary trailers or additional spaces to store equipment, to put in additional, you know, mechanical equipment, to maybe have some temporary areas for doctors, nurses to actually get some downtime and to hang out. So, you know, we could kind of add to it like Lego blocks, as and where needed, without really doing too much to their existing infrastructure.
Jordan: Yeah. I’ve taken a look just at one of the little plans you kind of sketched out, and it, yeah, it looks amazingly just like a hockey arena, only it’s been transformed. Did you game out how long that would take you and how much it would cost and how quickly you could set it up? Cause I know we’ve heard things from around the world of, you know, how quickly China has thrown up field hospitals or how quickly New York has transferred stuff. So what’s the timeline and the cost there?
Kenny: So, I mean, the cost is something that is a big variable. I mean, a lot of it, if it was to move forward, is depending on what people would be willing to offer up. A lot of, you know, manufacturers and suppliers and constructors would probably be able to offer up a lot of the infrastructure, you know, to help out in this scenario. So, but the timeline was key. I mean, you know, we pulled together this design and this package in a week. And then, you know, we believe it could be constructed given the go ahead, in about two to three weeks.
Jordan: Have you shown this to any governments? Is this sitting on anybody’s desk anywhere?
Kenny: It is, yeah. So the first thing we did was, because this was a kind of unsolicited call, we just wanted to put something out there, you know, because, you know, as a community response, we did just start reaching out to people. There was the emergency medical assistance team at Sunnybrook. Some of the planning public health groups, in Ontario and in specifically, you know, in Toronto and Kingston and other areas. People also shared it within their internal network. So it kind of got out beyond Canada. So, you know, in our internal network, it got over to Australia. So yeah, we try to ensure that it was in the hands of the right people. The CEO of Ontario health as example as well. And I think, you know, what we told all of these individuals was to also, you know, it’s free to share, just kind of take it, run with it, do what you want with it. We just want it to help. You know, and if there’s anything you need from us, we’ve got a motivated, ready and willing group to move it forward. So, yeah.
Jordan: What kind of feedback did you get from them, if any?
Kenny: The feedback was really positive. I think they really liked the approach. They had some questions, they wanted some more information, they wanted to determine cost, timelines, things like that. So we went back and forth. But I mean, I think the real positive picture is that we don’t actually need it. We can get to a point where these spaces aren’t needed, but at least they’ve got an actionable plan to move forward with, if they do, if there is a second wave or if there’s a spike, then they don’t necessarily have to, you know, build out a large temporary field hospital somewhere else.
Jordan: So, yeah, it’s a very good point, obviously, that it doesn’t look based on the current numbers, like we will need this, and hopefully we never do. But in the event that we do see a sudden spike when we reopened or we see a second wave, is this plan done? Is it on the ready to roll? Like if somebody saw the numbers rising tomorrow and needed to snap their fingers and start, we good to go?
Kenny: Yeah, we could jump on it. You know, with the partners and the individuals that came through, their expertise, you know, we could roll this out on site. We could start tomorrow as needed. So it’s a very, yeah, driven response. There’ll be a lot of, you know, there might be some tweaks and adjustments as you go, but the intent is to keep it as flexible as possible so you can adapt it to any particular building, based on, you know, its proximity to a hospital or where it’s needed.
Jordan: What’s the group doing next? Or now that you’ve got this plan down, are you still working on other stuff? Or are you just waiting to see what happens?
Kenny: Well, I mean, like I said, it was a fantastic group of individuals in our industry. And we’ve all got, you know, we’ve all got a day job. But you know, I think we’ll keep checking in just to see if it’s going to move forward and what that may look like. We haven’t jumped forward into anything else yet. It was, you know, it was great for me. I mean like reflecting back on it, I learned a lot through the process. I mean, you’re usually, in our typical industry, you’re usually kind of competing to get projects and work and you know, people and companies sometimes look inwards and try and maintain what they have and they don’t necessarily want to share. And I think what was so positive about this is everyone that came forward was just, you know, willing to kind of share what they had, their opinions, their expertise, and it was a really safe environment. Everyone was heard and we kind of drove it to an end solution, which was amazing. And it just makes you think that’s the way it should be all the time.
Jordan: Well, I hope it’s never needed, but I’m a really glad it exists. Thanks Kenny.
Kenny: Any time.
Jordan: Kenny Smith is the managing principal of engineering from Integral Group. And that was The Big Story. If you would like more, you can head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. You can also find us on Twitter at @thebigstoryFPN. And if you want to write us a letter or send us a voice memo or even record a video, you can email it to email@example.com. We always love to hear from you and we always love your ratings and reviews, which you can leave in any podcast provider that lets you do it. On Apple, on Google, on Stitcher, on Spotify, not all those places let you review us, but you can find us there. And as always, thanks for listening. Tell your friends. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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