IDP Group of Chesterville assembling isolation ICU ‘pods’ for nursing homes, other critical uses

IDP Group's Hamed Asl, beside an image of the portable two-bed isolation pod he's pitching to Ontario nursing homes.

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

CHESTERVILLE — The owners of the former Nestlé plant here have swung into action in the battle against COVID-19, with plans to build mobile intensive-care isolation pods aimed at nursing homes, hospitals and prisons — in Ontario and around the world.

Now, if only the IDP Group’s Hamed Asl could get somebody within those Ontario sectors to return his calls — especially the long-term care industry.

“What we’re going to focus on first are the ones for the long-term care facilities,” the businessman said, noting that nursing home residents are at highest risk from the virus and its spread. “We’ve already completed the specs for the different types, and we can build any of them,” he says, estimating an expanded IDP workforce could potentially produce 10 of the units — made by retrofitting 20-foot-long shipping containers — each day.

The first shipping container destined for a medical makeover arrived at the sprawling 171 Main Street North facility today.

“We’ve been working on the design and specs for the past little while,” says Asl.

The “biocontainment pod” has been developed in collaboration with an effort known as CURA — “an international task force of designers, engineers, medical professionals, and military experts,” Asl says. The open source ‘Connected Unit for Respiratory Ailments’ (CURA) initiative is backed by the World Economic Forum and by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he adds.

Intended for quick deployment domestically and internationally when hospitals run short of space during emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, each pod functions as a modern, intensive-care isolation room with two beds.

Below, CURA’s shipping container healthcare pod technology.

The model aimed at Ontario’s long-term care sector looks like a nursing-home room on the inside, he said, “with TVs, mini-fridge and whatnot … and windows.” Entry is gained through a sealed door.

Each unit is fully insulated with “plug and play” heating, cooling and electrical systems, as well as two beds and patient monitoring equipment. It’s also equipped with an enriched oxygen environment and features a specialized ventilation system to ensure negative air pressure, in accordance with an expert panel’s recommendations arising from the SARS crisis of 2003, according to Asl.

He estimates the cost of each  — with two beds and all equipment — at $49,000. “We could add a breathing assistant apparatus to these units as well.”

The very first one, he said, is currently being built in Italy. “And we’re going to build one on this side of the pond, in Chesterville, starting today.”

Arranged singularly or in modular fashion, he foresees the units being dropped off at nursing homes to serve as comfortable, separate isolation chambers for residents with COVID-19 — instead of keeping them within the general population.

He has been talking with both the federal and provincial government about the concept and says that funding is available. But Asl also requires somebody in the long-term care industry to show interest — but he’s having trouble getting through to the right contacts during these stressful times. Most COVID-19 deaths in Ontario to date have involved outbreaks at nursing homes.

“People don’t know about it [the pod option] at nursing homes. They don’t know what to do,” he concedes. “Everything we’re saying they should do is based on multiple reports on SARS and infectious disease. You have to move the patient out as soon as someone starts showing symptoms; you move them out while they still have a relative low viral load.”

“What you want to do, based on the reports, as soon as someone shows signs, is you move them into a negative air pressure isolation unit, away from the main building,” he said, comparing a nursing to a cruise ship after an outbreak occurs.

“The people in nursing homes are so vulnerable,” he points out, “and 600 nursing homes in Canada already have infections.”

“Nursing homes don’t know what’s available to them,” Asl reiterates, reflecting on the pod’s planned rollout. “The government has put up money for all kinds of things … and sometimes, the government waits for people to ask.”

IDP Group has prior experience repurposing shipping containers for science. The firm has been developing a clean container for growing cannabis under optimum conditions. IDP’s 370,000-square foot former coffee factory building also serves as base of operations for its long-time interests in construction and furnishing government office buildings.

More recently, the gargantuan structure sheltered pre-assembly of roof components for the revamped National Arts Centre, and, earlier this winter, the place hosted a movie shoot starring Mel Gibson as Santa Claus.

This article was edited to clarify the nature of CURA.



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