CORONAVIRUS

Temporary housing options pop up for area health care workers

Hotels 'aggressively competing' for occupancy

Marco Delgado at the Mercy 600 Building in Cedar Rapids on Monday, April 13, 2020. Delgado, a patient care technician at
Marco Delgado at the Mercy 600 Building in Cedar Rapids on Monday, April 13, 2020. Delgado, a patient care technician at Mercy and student at Mount Mercy University, has booked an employee housing room in the building while working on the COVID-19 unit at Mercy Medical Center, to avoid exposing members of his family with underlying conditions. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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This past week, both Cedar Rapids hospitals began offering new temporary-housing options for its medical staff and other team members as they care for patients in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting this past Friday, Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids opened 17 private rooms in the 600 building on Mercy’s campus as temporary housing for staff.

These rooms — available by reservation on a short- or long-term basis — will be provided “as long as there is a need.”

“Making provisions for temporary housing is part of Mercy’s Emergency Operations Plan,” Mercy Medical spokeswoman Karen Vander Sanden said. “It’s an important way Mercy can support staff who are unable to commute, have a long commute, would like a comfortable place to rest between shifts and/or prefer to stay separate from family while responding to the COVID-19 crisis.”

UnityPoint Health also has developed temporary housing guidelines for eligible St. Luke’s Hospital providers and other staff, which was announced by officials this past Wednesday.

According to St. Luke’s spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo, health system officials have worked with area hotels to cover room expenses for eligible staff members.

In addition, both Cedar Rapids hospitals are considering empty dorm rooms in local colleges as a potential housing option.

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Mercy Medical said Mount Mercy University soon will make 80 dorm rooms available to its health care workers. Hospital officials currently are working with the university to finalize details.

“Together, we are hoping to have the plan implemented starting next week,” Vander Sanden said.

St. Luke’s officials have said Coe College — located right next to the hospital’s campus — has offered dorm space as a potential housing option for staff. However, Corizzo said there is no update at this time as the hospital has been working primarily with local hotels and motels.

The head of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics also has floated the idea of empty UI residence halls — mostly vacant because of the outbreak — as temporary housing for staffers.

In an interview with The Gazette late last month, UI Health Care CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said the dorms could provide a place to stay for nurses, doctors and other staff in need of temporary housing. He added the layout of the rooms are not ideal for patient care.

“We’re working very creatively with our entire university community to best take advantage of resources,” he said on March 23.

UIHC officials said in an email Monday they plan to provide accommodation for health care workers, “but our plans aren’t finalized, so we can’t provide details yet.”

Hotel-room stays

Across the country, hotels have become temporary housing for its staff who are on the front lines of the pandemic. One program, called Hospitality for Hope and recently organized by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, has matched emergency and health care workers with empty hotel rooms. According to the association’s website, more than 16,000 hotels have signed up for the initiative.

Hotel rooms locally have offered lower room rates for heath care workers, including the Residence Inn in Cedar Rapids. There, medical staff at either Cedar Rapids hospital can stay for $89 a night.

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The SureStay Plus Hotel in Coralville is allowing health care personnel stay free of charge in its rooms for one night a week, employees there confirmed.

Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said many area hotels hope these health care workers can help offset the impact the coronavirus has had on their bottom line. Typically during this time of year, hotels in Iowa City and Coralville are operating at a 70 percent occupancy rate — but nowadays, they’re “struggling to maintain 10 percent.”

“Any room they can get in right now to pay for their overhead and the limited staff they do have, they’re aggressively competing on,” Schamberger said.

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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