Senior Housing Residents Outraged by Relocation of COVID Tent Closer to Their Homes; Hospital Says Venting and Entrance Are Actually Further Away – Redheaded Blackbelt – Redheaded Blackbelt

Back of newly erected Covid tent ten feet from senior housing property line.

Side of senior apartments in relation to the back of the newly erected Covid tent. [Photo by Lisa Crenshaw-Music]

On November 3rd, SoHum Health erected their new and larger COVID isolation tent in the Emergency Room parking lot of the Jerold Phelps Community Hospital in Garberville, close to the Cedar Street Senior Apartments, causing some of the elderly residents concern for their safety. SoHum Health administration, however, assures the community that the new tent’s venting and entranceway are actually further from the senior housing than before and the seniors are safe. 

The front of the new Covid tent, entrance and air filtration located 43’ from senior housing property line seen in background.

The front of the new Covid tent, entrance and air filtration located 43’ from senior housing property line seen in background. [Photo by Lisa Crenshaw-Music]

Sonnie Shapiro, age 71, moved into the Cedar Street Senior Apartments just over two months ago. Her unit is closest to the wooden fence separating the senior housing from the E.R. parking lot and the COVID isolation tent. The previous COVID tent had already caused her concern due to what she said was disruptive noise from staff and patients at all hours of the night. However, the nuisance of the previous issues is now overshadowed by the fear of contracting COVID with the placement of the newly erected tent. Due to the back of the tent being ten feet from the property line, Sonnie has been advised by friends to not open her windows or use her bathroom air vent for concern she may be exposing herself and her service dog to the COVID-19 virus which has caused the deaths of over 569,000 people 65 years old and older, in the U.S. alone, according to the CDC. 

Other community members question why there’s a need for the COVID tent when the hospital has plenty of room inside. That, they say, would limit the noise and risk to those in Senior housing. 

Matt Rees, CEO of So Hum Health, explained on Facebook that the choice to place the COVID isolation tent outside was to protect the elderly inhabitants of a nursing home inside the hospital. He pointed out, “We put up the tent to house Covid positive patients, so we did not bring them into the hospital/nursing home. I believe we are one [of] the only nursing home[s] in the state that has not had a Covid positive patient and many of them have had deaths because these are the most vulnerable people in the community.” 

However, other residents of the Senior Housing units and their families, besides Sonnie Shapiro, are concerned as well. Patricia Austin, a resident of the Cedar Street Senior Apartments for the past three and a half years, would like to see the hospital relocate the COVID tent to the Sprowl Creek campus. She says there’s a great community of elders at the senior housing complex that are being affected by the noise and possible threat to their health. “I’m one of the younger ones, and I’m 72.” she states. “[S]ome of us are ill, fighting different ailments, some very old.” 

Shanda Rial, whose eighty-year-old mother lives at the Cedar Street Senior Apartments, also wants to see the COVID unit moved. She says she “would be furious if my mom lived in that spot” referring to the apartment that Sonnie Shapiro resides in. “This is senior housing!” she explained. “Completely rude to put it there.”

Back of newly erected Covid tent ten feet from senior housing property line.

Back of newly erected Covid tent ten feet from senior housing property line. [Photo by Lisa Crenshaw-Music]

On the other hand, Kent Scown, COO of SoHum Health, told us that the tent cannot be moved further west in the parking lot, away from the senior housing property line due to the slope of the property. “The current structure needed to be [as] level as possible. The current location is much better suited for equipment and beds on wheels…” They also will not be using the back entrance which is closest to the property line. The front entrance and air filtration unit are now 43 feet’ from the fence line, which is 5 to 6 feet further from the property line than the previous tent, in which they utilized both the front and back entrances.

Kent Scown further clarified the hospital’s need for the new COVID tent and placement as well as mitigating measures the staff put in place to help those in Senior Housing in an email response to our questions:

After 19 months of continuous use and the tent infrastructure failing, the district replaced the existing tent.  The shelter that had been in use came to us through a FEMA Disaster Preparedness grant many years ago. We purchased an identical replacement.  While waiting for the replacement to arrive, we were notified that the California State EMS Authority had a shelter available to us.  This tent is considerably more appropriate for inclement weather use, being insulated, and built upon a much more solid steel frame.  Patient comfort concerns weighed heavily on our decision to accept the offer to erect the new structure.

As an extension of our Emergency Services function for Southern Humboldt, the tent needs to be close to our ER.  Staffing a remote location would not be feasible with the high cost of hiring traveling nursing staff, additional physicians, and the logistics of shuttling other staff between physical plants.  Equipment necessary for x-rays, patient monitoring, etc., would pose different challenges like electrical requirements and security concerns. The fact that the tent is mainly in an empty-at-the-ready status adds to the financial burden of establishing a second mini-hospital.

As to the placement of the structure in its current location, the building rests ten feet from the property line and twenty feet from the nearest residence, and meets or exceeds current guidance from CMS and the state.  In addition, some of our concerns with the past installation were the venting of air from inside the tent, the noise of heating and cooling equipment, and other related sounds that had drawn complaints from our neighbors.  The location was chosen explicitly with these complaints in mind. 

1.)  The only opening being used in the current design is the front flap which is further from the property line than the one in the last tent.

2.)  The heating/cooling unit has been placed on the front side of the tent to reduce the ambient noise associated with continuous operation.

3.)  Venting air from inside the tent is now located further from the property line than the previous installation and is approximately fifty-five feet from the nearest residential structure. When exhausted, the air is directed to the west, away from the senior housing units.

4.)  Waste and recyclable bins have been relocated further away from the property line, addressing a past complaint of noise from the residents.

We are glad to see that people understand the seriousness of the pandemic that we have been living with for nearly two years. I believe that we have done our best to weigh the needs of our neighborhood and the responsibility that we have to our community, reaching an optimal solution for the moment. Hopefully, this conversation raises the awareness of the need for vaccination to protect those around us, the need to continue to wear masks, practicing social distancing, and continued handwashing.

For now, not many options for the seniors remain. Regardless of residents’ complaints, the hospital has no plans of moving the COVID tent. As for Sonnie, she does not want to move, nor do her senior housing neighbors want to see her go. Her only option other than moving out of the complex is to wait for another apartment in the complex further away from the tent to become available. An opening usually occurs, according to management, less than once a year. 

Sonnie and her supporters continue to reach out to local agencies to find a solution as well as voicing her frustrations publicly. She states, “I expected common respect and consideration. Not complete disregard for our health and peace of mind.”

Patti Rose, manager of the Cedar Street Apartments, assures us that Sonnie can put in a request for another apartment. Even though vacancies don’t come up very often, Sonnie will be placed at the top of the very long waiting list. Patti says she’s “sorry it’s being a stressful thing for some of the residents” but she believes the hospital is doing the best they can and has taken the appropriate precautions.