The Columbus Dispatch
Quarantine shelter aids in recovery of COVID-19
Space can treat up to 100 homeless people
On a cold and snowy Thursday afternoon, Tracy Cloud had her hands full.
Pulling big garbage bags out of her SUV, she lugged the items a short distance from the parking lot into a room with “SIQ YMCA” on the door. Cloud walked into the back of the room and began opening the bags, revealing a variety pack of Frito-lay chips, a box of Nature Valley granola bars and packs of thick socks.
“My neighbors in Westerville all donated these,” Cloud said.
The donations are for an isolation and quarantine shelter for the homeless (SIQ), which is located at the America’s Best Value Inn on Dublingranville Road in Columbus’ Northland neighborhood.
The shelter is operated by nonprofits Community Shelter Board, the YMCA of Central Ohio and Lower Lights Christian Health Center.
The shelter opened in April 2020 as a way to house homeless residents
who had tested positive for COVID-19 or who had been exposed to the virus because existing shelters aren’t set up to provide the necessary distancing.
“That was one of the very first things we did because we knew we had to have a safe place for people who had COVID to recover where they weren’t transmitting it to others,” Community Shelter Board Executive Director Michelle Heritage said.
Heritage previously told The Dispatch that she thought the organization would be able to close the shelter a few months ago. But then COVID-19 cases began to surge again due to the delta and omicron variants.
Cloud, who is the CEO of Lower Lights, said there are 38 people currently staying at the hotel, with staff preparing to accept more due to high demand. The shelter is almost back to its record number of patients that it had earlier in the pandemic, which was 40.
“This particular variant is just spreading so quickly, so there’s definitely an increased need and demand for the SIQ,” Cloud said. “Especially during the winter time, too, people don’t have a lot of other options for sheltering, so it’s a particularly difficult time.”
The shelter has enough room to accommodate between 90 and 100 people, according to Cloud. Heritage said operating the shelter costs $250,000 per month and that the cost will grow as the Community Shelter Board increases the facility’s capacity to take in more patients.
Heritage said the organization is looking at other potential facilities in case an outbreak happens within the homeless community.
“Hopefully we don’t have to do that,” Heritage said. “So we’re just planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”
Lower Lights nurse practitioner Elizabeth Williams said patients usually isolate at the shelter for 10 days. When the person’s symptoms have improved and they do not have a fever, they go back to a homeless shelter or stay with family members.
She said Lower Lights cannot follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new isolation guidance — which is down to five days — because of the risk the homeless have with not being able to social distance at shelters.
Cloud said a mix of single people and families are referred to the isolation and quarantine shelter from hospitals and homeless shelters across Columbus. Then Lower Lights reviews a person’s case to see if they are able to live independently at the shelter and, if so, the YMCA organizes transportation for them, Williams said.
“Then I’ll do an intake with them and we’ll get a medical history and figure out if they need medications prescribed,” Williams said. “We’re able to utilize our pharmacy because a lot of people don’t have insurance, or even if they have Medicaid, they maybe don’t have it available. It’s been so great to be able to offer folks prompt care, whether that’s medications or an assessment by a nurse.”
In addition to treating patients for COVID-19, Lower Lights addresses patients’ primary care needs.
“We’ll see diabetics and we’ll get them insulin,” Cloud said. “We will help manage hypertension and different chronic conditions. And one of the things that we do on a regular basis as well is help people that are struggling
“This particular variant is just spreading so quickly, so there’s definitely an increased need and demand for the SIQ.”
with substance use disorder. So, we provide addiction treatment as well.”
Cloud remembers a pregnant woman who was referred to the shelter who had not had any prenatal care or any maternity clothes. After the staff got to know the woman and understand her challenges, they were able to provide care for her, help her with smoking cessation and provide maternity clothes.
“We do get to know people because they’re with us for a couple of weeks, so we’re able to address some of their other underlying behavioral health needs, primary health needs and get them on a better path to better wellness and health care after they leave isolation or quarantine.”
Staff from the YMCA provide food and clothing for patients as well as activities to keep them occupied during their stay, such as TV, games and books, Heritage said. In addition, patients can receive mental health services from Southeast Inc.
Cloud said there are about 35 Lower Lights employees who are working at the shelter, which includes nurses, providers, medical assistants and support staff.
She said it is a challenge to bring more staff on site when Lower Lights operates seven primary care centers around Greater Columbus and cares of about 15,000 patients. Plus, the nonprofit group is dealing with staffing shortages and employees not being able to work because they’re sick.
Lower Lights (llchc.org), which is accepting donations to the shelter, will hire temporary nurses to be there if the number of patients rises even more, Cloud said.
Williams said her experience at the shelter and working with the agencies involved in the project has been rewarding, as this is her first time working at an isolation shelter.
“It just feels like a really different, unique kind of experience … and everybody has pitched in and worked really hard to make it all come together,” she said. “It’s been really exciting.”
This story is part of the Dispatch’s Mobile Newsroom initiative, which is currently focused on Driving Park and surrounding neighborhoods. It previously was centered on the Northland area. Visit our reporters at the Driving Park branch library and read their work at dispatch.com/mobilenewsroom, where you also can sign up for The Mobile Newsroom newsletter.