The Spokane Regional Health District will close its isolation facility at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center to save money as the need for such services has slowed.
The health district will continue to operate its other isolation facility at the My Place Hotel in Spokane Valley following the closure of the Immaculate Heart space in Spokane on May 31.
The closure of the Immaculate Heart isolation center is a reflection of dwindling need as community spread of COVID-19 remains below previous peaks and, likely, the success of the health district’s proactive vaccination efforts in local homeless shelters.
“We’ve been vaccinating as much as we can since February, so it does seem like there’s a connection, and we are really hopeful that the vaccines are having a positive impact on a broad level,” said Kylie Kingsbury, the health district’s homeless outreach coordinator.
Isolation facilities are not solely for people who are experiencing homelessness, but anyone who is unable to safely isolate. However, the centers have primarily served the homeless.
The Immaculate Heart facility has a capacity of 64 guests, while the My Place Hotel has capacity for 36 guests.
“We have seen less demand for these services and the specialized support the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center offers,” Kelli Hawkins, a spokesperson for the health district, explained in an email. “We are confident we can continue to offer the community a safe place to isolate at MyPlace Hotel if they are unable to do so on their own.”
The closure is also a reflection of a need to conserve funding.
Hawkins said the health district doesn’t have the resources to continue operating both facilities, in part, because some federal funding that helped pay for it is running low.
“Keeping the isolation center open at its current capacity is a huge expense for COVID-19 recovery efforts,” she said.
As of May 3 – the most recent date the data was compiled – Immaculate Heart had served 480 patients since Sept. 14 and the My Place Hotel had served 413 patients since June 1.
At both facilities, there were a total of 15 guests on May 3, 23 guests on April 27, and 17 guests on April 19.
The My Place Hotel will continue to be used as an isolation facility at least through the end of September, at which time the need will be re-evaluated.
The section of the hotel that is dedicated to isolation services is not open to other hotel guests.
Although most people can isolate at home, the isolation facilities are viewed as a key tool to limit the spread of COVID-19 in shelters, where people are unable to separate themselves from others as easily.
“It takes 28 days with no new cases to end an outbreak, but we’ve had huge shelters who have ended their outbreaks and essentially stopped the spread within their facility. That’s huge and a really great tool in doing that is having rates of immunized clients in the shelters.”
Shelters are set up to accommodate as many guests as possible, making isolation within one nearly impossible. Even those who are unsheltered and living outdoors have to access restrooms and food, which is a challenge without coming into contact with others, Kingsbury noted.
The health district made vaccinating homeless people a priority this year and gave 800 the shot.
“Even if we don’t necessarily have herd immunity in the broader community, there’s a possibility to do that in the shelters and have high rates in the shelters vaccinated,” Kingsbury said.