The Center City Holiday Inn Express, Philadelphia’s hastily organized quarantine site for people who can’t isolate in their homes — or have no homes — is having problems meeting the medical and personal needs of the people it is housing, say residents and staffers.
Though grateful for a place to lay their heads during the pandemic, some residents note that they lack cleaning supplies (there’s no maid service), they sometimes cannot get their prescription medications refilled, and food has been meager.
City officials have stressed the hotel, which has been up and running in its current use for just under a month, is not intended to be a medical facility. But staffers say some residents have medical needs they cannot fully accommodate.
Such concerns, officials say, are the growing pains associated with such an unprecedented housing effort, but they are learning from their mistakes. The city, which is spending $170,000 a month to rent the Holiday Inn, in April began renting a second quarantine space for $119,000 at a Fairfield Inn several blocks away.
The Fairfield Inn quarantine facility has been hosting first responders who cannot quarantine at home since opening nearly a month ago. But it’s now accepting people over age 65 or with an underlying medical condition, or people who have been exposed to the virus while living in a congregate setting like a homeless shelter. Residents must all have been exposed to the virus, though they do not have to test positive to be eligible.
A member of the city’s Medical Reserve Corps, a federally funded volunteer medical support team that has helped staff a number of coronavirus-related initiatives, said the facility desperately needs more medical staff. The deputy managing director for health and human services, Eva Gladstein, said additional health-care staffers were assigned to the building in the last week, and the city is looking to hire more, as well as increase behavioral health services.
Even though city officials have turned away 57 people with higher-level health-care needs, the volunteer, who asked for anonymity fearing professional repercussions, said important needs still aren’t being met.
“It’s not being discussed as a health-care facility, yet everyone has health-care needs," the volunteer said. Some of the guests are in opioid addiction, or have chronic health problems that frequently accompany living on the streets. “There’s so many different health-care dynamics that are not being addressed, because they don’t have the staff to address it.”
Staff at the hotel cannot visit each person daily, and can only call them on the room phones to see how they are doing, the volunteer said. Guests experiencing shortness of breath — one of the hallmarks of a severe COVID-19 case — have been instructed to call 911 on their own, the volunteer said.
The lack of personal contact is a particular concern when overdosing is a risk. (The city has worked to get patients with addiction medication-assisted treatment to quell cravings for opioids, and patient navigators from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital have been delivering daily doses of methadone to some patients.)
“It’s at the discretion of who is there to go and check on people not answering their room phones. Security is supposed to be looking out for who takes in their meals and who doesn’t as a red flag. But there’s not a sense of urgency about that,” the volunteer said.
“No one’s getting deliveries in. But people get drugs into prisons," the volunteer added.
No one has died in the Holiday Inn quarantine, city officials said, though an undisclosed number of residents have been transferred to hospitals.
One resident, Shane Meyer, 42, said he’d waited four days for psychiatric medications to be delivered. He had been pacing the room, his anxiety “through the roof.” He was living at a halfway house when he first went to the hospital two weeks ago, for complications related to his kidney disease. But Meyer tested positive for COVID-19 at the hospital, and his halfway house refused to take him back.
Speaking over the phone from his hotel room last week, he said he was not sure where he would go when he left quarantine: A Harrisburg native, he barely knows the city.
Locked in their rooms, connected to the outside world only via the room phones, several guests described problems calling the front desk for help, or just toilet paper.
The rooms have no cleaning supplies — though Gladstein said the city is working to get some — and residents were washing clothes in bathtubs because they’re not allowed to use the hotel’s laundry facilities.
Residents must rely on food being sent to their rooms, but some say they are not getting enough to eat. Bienvendio Gutierrez, who arrived at the Holiday Inn last week from a Port Richmond addiction treatment center hit hard by the virus, said he had stopped taking medication for his depression because it makes him too hungry.
Alone in his room, he has taped photos of his three daughters to the walls in an effort to stay positive.
“You can imagine how homesick I am,” he said. “I’ve never been suicidal or nothing like that. But being hungry, not sleeping, and having a lot of depression? If there wasn’t no lock on the windows, I’d probably have been out of it.”
Gladstein said the “quality and quantity” of the meals on offer at the Holiday Inn had “deteriorated," and that additional food has been added to every meal. Staffers at the front desk, she said, who are hired by a contractor with the city, have been replaced by people with “more of a customer service-oriented background.”
“I don’t want to delegitimize complaints. We agree with a number of them,” she said. “Obviously, this is urgent, and in urgent situations you try to stand up resources and facilities as soon as you can, and you know that you will probably, by doing that, make some mistakes or leave some gaps, and you will correct that as rapidly as you can."