It is a symbol of Montreal’s long history, founded in the 17th Century by a pioneering nurse, only to be finally closed for in-patients two years ago.
Now, the mostly shuttered Hotel Dieu hospital could be brought back to something like full life to help in the historic battle against COVID-19.
Quebec’s health ministry says it is considering using Hotel Dieu to treat non-COVID in-patients, if a surge in people suffering from the new coronavirus strains resources at the city’s other hospitals.
It is one of a number of plans across the country to create makeshift medical centres or expand existing ones as the number of coronavirus patients swells, an extraordinary overnight drive to stretch capacity.
The Vancouver convention centre is being repurposed as a 271-bed hospital for non-COVID patients, while in Burlington, Ont., a hospital is putting up a temporary, 93-bed annex. Responding to a call from the Ontario government for health-care facilities to “think outside the box” and find new capacity, a Toronto rehabilitation hospital is installing 40 beds into a space not currently used for patients.
The decision on whether to use Montreal’s Hotel Dieu “will be made based on developments — should it become necessary to free more beds in the centres designated to handle COVID-19 cases,” said Marie-Claude Lacasse, a spokeswoman for the Quebec health and social services ministry. “This would allow designated hospitals to treat COVID and non-COVID patients requiring a higher level of care.”
Hotel-Dieu was largely shut down in 2017, as the University of Montreal Hospital Centre (CHUM) moved into a newly-built complex.
It has housed some administrative offices and an out-patient clinic since then, and earlier this month a COVID-19 testing centre was opened on one of its wings.
But the government plan — if put into action during a possible surge of virus cases — would temporarily restore its function as a hospital for admitted patients.
Dr. Thomas Hemmerling, a University of Montreal anesthesiology professor, said he and other physicians have been trying to get the word to government for two weeks that it should use Hotel Dieu. He has little doubt it will be needed.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you look at it … there will be, very early in the epidemic, a lack of space and ICU beds,” he said. “There are many countries building makeshift hospitals; we have an existing one right smack in the middle of the city.”
Other nations hard hit by the pandemic have also opened temporary hospitals.
It should give people comfort that you have such a co-ordinated system behind the scenes planning for whatever the need may be
China famously built two COVID-19 centres in Wuhan from scratch in a matter of days.
In the U.S., the Federal Emergency Management Agency is building four, 250-bed hospitals at a New York City convention centre, while the U.S. army is setting up two field hospitals in Long Island, N.Y.
The Ontario health ministry has asked health-care facilities to try to find extra space that could be used for patient care. Runnymede Healthcare Centre, a rehab hospital in west-end Toronto, is already taking up the call, first by converting a non-patient space into a 40-bed temporary ward, said CEO Connie Dejak.
The project — designed to take non-COVID patients if acute-care hospitals become overburdened by coronavirus sufferers — is being guided by volunteer help from builder Carmine Nigro of Craft Developments, who is also chairman of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
“It should give people comfort that you have such a co-ordinated system behind the scenes planning for whatever the need may be,” said Dejak. “And they’re proactive. That’s what we need to be. We need to be ready.”
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Tuesday the landmark convention centre in Vancouver — unused now because of the ban on large gatherings — would be converted into a medical centre. The province is also expected to repurpose community centres and other public spaces elsewhere, if more overflow space is needed.
The Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington is building a modular structure outside its main complex to house 93 COVID-19 patients, if necessary, the facility announced Monday.