WINNIPEG -- Manitoba will be getting new outdoor all-season shelters made out of repurposed single-use shipping containers to allow for residents of personal care homes to visit with loved ones amid the pandemic.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen, along with Reg Helwer, the Minister of Central Services, announced they had awarded a construction tender to PCL Constructors to build and deploy the new shelters.

The province said a total of $17.9 million dollars will be used to build 90 shelters which will be expected to begin delivery of the shelters in the coming weeks. Friesen said they hope to have all shelters delivered by late Fall.

"This is going to the difference for all those Manitobans who need to have that contact with their families and friends and loved ones, no matter what is happening outside their personal care home," Friesen said.

While the visiting shelters may look like shipping containers on the outside, the province says they will be completely finished on the inside. Each unit will be large enough for one resident and up to five visitors.

visiting shelters

The shelters will be built with an enclosed link to the personal care home, giving residents direct access to the shelter. Visitors will come in from an opposite door from residents.

Each unit will have a ventilation system to push air from the care come outside. The airflow itself will be flowing away from residents to add more protection.

Friesen said the units will be cleaned regularly and will also include a UV lighting system that will help to disinfect the space.

visitor shelters

For care homes that do not receive a shelter, the province said internal solutions are being planned to allow for spaces inside the care homes where safe visitations can happen.

This comes after the province put out a request for proposals for the shelters back in June, which specified the shelters needed to be accessible, protected from the elements, easily cleaned, and provide a space for quality connections.

Jan Legeros, executive director of the Long Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba, said it won’t be feasible for a shelter to be built at every personal care home in the province.

“We have 127 licensed personal care homes in Manitoba and they’re all different,” she said.

“They have different sized buildings, they have different sized properties so not all of them will be able to accommodate an additional building on their property.”

However, she said, the facilities that can’t fit a shelter on the property are looking at interior spaces near entrances that could be used as safe visitation areas.

“Visitation is of primary importance here, that’s why the government is moving forward with these shelters. The families and the long-term care owners and operators have spoken and have certainly indicated that social isolation has a huge negative effect on our seniors,” Legeros said.

“Whatever we can do to mitigate social isolation is what we should be thinking about for the fall.”

Legeros said there was a committee, that included personal care homeowners and operators, architects, engineers, and government representatives, that consulted on these shelters.

She added there have also been logistical challenges with personal care homes during the pandemic.

“Most of the personal care homes in the province were built 40-50 years ago and never with the kind of high-need vulnerable seniors in mind that we have in these homes today,” she said.

“So you can imagine, every square inch of space is utilized and accounted for making physical distancing extremely challenging so having the option of these shelters or an internal room that could be cordoned off and utilized is really the way forward for visitation in the fall.”