Designing the mobile COVID-19 hospitals Canada hopes to deploy across the country was a quick pivot for their Coquitlam manufacturer Weatherhaven to adapt things they were already doing specifically for the pandemic.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has ordered two, 100-bed isolation hospitals from Weatherhaven, with the option of taking eight more, based on design work the company started only in March at its local headquarters, said CEO Ray Castelli.
“(When) COVID came along, we started getting inquiries about field hospitals just as clinics,” Castelli said, which Weatherhaven had already been building for clients such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders over the last 15 years.
Instead of just field hospitals, Castelli said one of their lead designers deduced they could take the design for modular structures they were already making for the Canadian military and combine them with their technique for building pressure-sealed shelters to protect people from hazardous environments.
The result was a prototype, 10-bed isolation ward set up in the parking lot of Weatherhaven’s production facility in Coquitlam, which, from the outside, looks a lot like a typical military-green army tent.
“We tested the idea and determined that we can seal them up enough so that we could over-pressurize them and create that negative-pressure environment” suitable for treating COVID-19 patients, Castelli said.
Its air-handling unit is capable of pressurizing the space and exchanging all of the air inside it once every two minutes with expelled air run through HEPA filters.
And to date, Weatherhaven has manufactured and shipped 17 of the isolation hospitals at production facilities in Ottawa, Peru and Dubai to places as far flung as Chile, El Salvador, Guinea in Africa, the Middle East and Greenland.
Their modular design means they can be as small as 10 beds or as big as 100 beds, which occupy the space of a typical soccer field, and cost $2 million or more, depending on how customers want them outfitted, Castelli said.
Some just want the empty, negative-pressure facilities. Canada, however, is one of the customers looking for turnkey hospitals complete with beds, oxygen systems, ventilators and portable X-ray machines.
Weatherhaven partnered with Calgary firm the Atco Group to develop, build, store and deploy the mobile respiratory care units, MRCUs, designed for a range of uses, depending on how provinces want to use them, Castelli said.
In some instances they might be used as COVID-19 wards attached to hospitals, in others adjacent to long-term care homes or to provide resources in remote locations where the capacity to deal with COVID-19 is thin including First Nations, Castelli said.
“We’re going to be deploying the first one in about a week or so in a trial in Ontario,” Castelli said.
Weatherhaven got its start making camp facilities for remote mining camps then evolving and expanding to mobile military accommodations and shelters rated and tested to -80 C temperatures to house researchers in harsh Arctic and Antarctic environments.
“We’ve been innovating all the way through,” Castelli said about their COVID-19 response that has been somewhat of a business boom when other projects have dropped off. “What we’re actually delivering today is better than what we did back in March.”