BEMIDJI -- While Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota has yet to have a coronavirus patient be treated at its facility, the care provider is still preparing for an eventual surge.
As part of the process, Sanford employees and leadership have included temporary housing in their planning.
"We haven't had any COVID positive patients in our facility," said Joy Johnson, vice president of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota. "This is not a thing that our employees have to be concerned about right now. But it is part of our surge planning. As part of that planning, we're working on several things to keep our employees safe."
Recent models from Sanford Health show a surge for coronavirus coming locally closer to Labor Day.
"We've been talking to all of the hotels in town," Johnson said. "It's not something we need right now, but we've been asking them about availability and what rates could be. Timing is everything here. If we ask them today, they might have one answer. If we ask them during labor day, it might be a different answer."
Tonya Moss, who has been a nurse with Sanford in Bemidji for 29 years and is also a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said alternative housing will be essential during a surge for all workers at the facility.
"We have families and some of our family members are old and some of them are at risk. If they get COVID-19, they're going to die," Moss said. "So we want to quarantine ourselves when we are working. It's not just nurses, it's doctors, aids, housekeeping, and food service workers. We want a place to stay when they're done with their shifts."
Moss also noted that some Sanford employees in Bemidji live in more rural areas, and if workers put in longer hours in the event of a surge, having a nearby location to stay at would also be beneficial.
"We want to be there for every person that comes in the hospital and take care of them," Moss said. "That is our priority. But our family is a priority, too. We're asking if people can stand up and give us a place, even where we can park campers at. We're not asking for handouts, we're just asking for a place."
At the state and national level, in communities that have and are currently being hit hard by the pandemic, there have been initiatives started to house health care workers. One example is the "RVs 4 MDs" initiative on Facebook, which manages the donations of RVs and campers to health care workers in need of another place to stay.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association, meanwhile, has started a program called Hospitality for Hope. According to its website, the AHLA is working with the United States Department of Health and Human Services to create a database that can help providers find hotel rooms at special rates. So far, more than 17,000 hotels have signed up.
Locally, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, some Twin Cities hotels have made their rooms available for health care workers with special rates. News outlets are also reporting hotels in Rochester and Duluth are also offering special rates to house health care workers.
Locally, though, the timing of the surge remains the biggest factor.
"It all comes down to when," said Kelly Hagan, vice president of nursing and clinical services at Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota. "If more of the state is traveling, and we have more recreational tourist traffic, depending on when our surge occurs, we may have more difficulty in finding space."
"Some of the nurses, other members of the MNA, called around to a few places," Moss said. "My employer asked me to call a hotel that would give a good rate. The place we called was $95 a night, which is not cost effective. We decided to look around for alternatives, too, like campgrounds and the BSU dorms. We did find a campground in Cass Lake, but that's still a ways away."
According to Moss, in the time after she made contact inquiring about an alternate location, the individual was "upset" and contacted Sanford. As a result, Moss said she was put on administrative leave. When asked about the situation, Hagan told the Pioneer that Sanford doesn't disclose issues around employment.