Converted shipping containers have been turned into tiny homes, man-caves, backyard offices, and even swimming pools. Now inventive individuals have created another novel use for them – a place for families to visit their loved ones in long-term care.

In the Fraser Health region, the Queen’s Park Healthcare Foundation got a government grant to help purchase a shipping container now on site at the Queen’s Park Care Centre. The New Westminster healthcare facility serves 148 long term- care residents and 77 rehab patients. It has had multiple COVID outbreaks in the past year – two outbreaks in long-term care involving 10 residents, five staff and four deaths. And three outbreaks in acute care involving 20 patients, four staff and one death.

The repurposed container has been insulated, heated, furnished and equipped with an intercom system. Families enter the Britco modular container from one entrance while residents enter from another. They are separated by a plexiglass partition. While it sounds a little like jail visits, it certainly beats outdoor window visits. Indeed, it’s a private, safe way to have visits while the pandemic is still claiming lies in the long-term care sector.

The Manitoba government is believed to be the first in Canada to make a big ($17.9 million) purchase of shipping containers from a construction company last fall. Modifying the units can cost up to $200,000.

Karl Segnoe, whose 92-year-old grandmother lives there said in a press release: “I have every confidence in the staff to keep my grandmother safe, but I fear social isolation is taking a toll on her well-being. Being able to visit as a family will be huge because my grandmother is such an important person in our lives.”

Families must reserve visits and still wear masks. They are also pre-screened with temperature checks and other measures to help detect COVID symptoms. Long term care residents are accompanied by a staff worker who remains for the duration of the visit. Every surface is disinfected in-between visits.

Elizabeth Kelly, the executive director of the Queen’s Park Healthcare Foundation, said:

“We had the space, so I applied for a $25,000 federal grant. All of us at Queen’s Park Care Centre are looking forward to the day when COVID-19 is behind us and we can remove the partition in the visitor centre so families can celebrate together and hug each other. The pandemic has taught us that the small things in life are really the most important.”

Fraser Health has not yet responded to questions about how much the shopping container cost in total.

Exterior of the shipping container. Photo courtesy of Fraser Health and the Queen’s Park Healthcare Foundation.