Housing Options for Healthcare Workers During a Pandemic

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

Editor: Many of us have had to alter our living arrangements during this pandemic.  When I was on quarantine for 14 days early on after being exposed to 3 positive COVID cases at a single dinner, I chose the basement route and partitioned myself off from my wife and kids.  Eventually, we ended up sending my youngest to her grandparent’s house in South Carolina to make things better for Kristen – who was and is still working from home.  

In this guest post, written by Dr. Inc of the anonymous blog DoctorIncorporated – he describes the options we all have when considering living arrangements during this pandemic.  The goal?  To keep our families safe while providing the care our patients need.  Dr. Inc and I have no financial relationship.

Housing Options for Healthcare Workers During a Pandemic

I have been living away from my family for nearly 2 weeks now, in an effort to protect my wife and children from contracting COVID-19 from me. I dont have the virus, I am not quarantined as a Person Under Investigation, and I hope to avoid contracting it like the rest of America. But as a rural family physician, I am on the front lines dealing with patients virtually every day both in the clinic and in the hospital. The risk is real and ever present. Unfortunately, given the incubation period of this virus, I could unknowingly transmit it to my family. PPE protects me and my patients, but most of us dont use PPE at home, and thats the rub for all of us.

With nearly 10,000 healthcare workers in the US becoming infected with COVID-19 as of mid April, home transmission is a real ongoing concern within the physician, nursing, and healthcare professionals communities.

Every day I wonder, Am I bringing COVID-19 home to my family?

Every day my family wonders, Are we exposing him to COVID-19 when his guard is down?

For most of us, home is our safe place. A location that provides us the needed reprieve from the demands of medicine and is typically filled with love, relaxation, and rest.

Now, however, home has become a place that we cant relax, or let our guard down. Whether you have enacted a new set of entry and exit rituals aimed at reducing your biological footprint, there are land mines everywhere including the kitchen, bathrooms, digital devices, and remotes.

The following are some COVID-19 sparing housing strategies that have been organized with the safety of your family in mind. Choose what is affordable and makes sense in your home as you look at the options.

1. Within Your Own Home

This is the most common adaptation currently being used. Depending on your home configuration, one can partition off a quarantined sectionthat becomes your domain for the duration of the pandemic. Some have used basements, garages, or other dividable spaces.

When it comes to social distancing from your spouse, couch surfing for sleep is the minimum separation, especially if you dont have the luxury of a separate space. That is what my nurse does in her home.

Others have pro-actively sent their spouse and children to live with extended family in a different home. In this arrangement, the healthcare worker safely stays in his-her own home, but insures the rest of the family is safely separated.

If both spouses are healthcare professionals, this may become a rank order puzzle of who is the most essentialto protect. Although this is not meant to undermine anyones egalitarian notions, it is a rather pragmatic discussion to entertain in your home. Its especially challenging if the dual professional couple have children who need attention as well.

Frankly, some have found the idea of separation within their own home so unappealing that they take on various degrees of safe co-mingling, which they reason to be relatively safe. Those choices often include co-habitation without sleeping together, along with very limited physical contact. Others have taken a fatalistic approach – “if it happens, it happens, choosing to take very few safety measures beyond the re-entry ritual of cleaning the vehicle, dis-robing, washing clothes immediately, and taking a shower. The latter sequence seems pretty universal at this point.

There is not set standard for doing this, and there certainly are not a lot of authorities speaking about this. Its just a assumed each of us is doing something.

2. Your Other Property(s)

Many physicians own rental properties. If you have a vacant unit, consider moving yourself into this. This is a wonderful option that may even give you some added insight into the condition and atmosphere of your real estate holding. I would also add that this is free, and as most physicians income is going down during this season, free is good.

I am fortunate that we own a guest house right across the street from our primary dwelling. It is used for family and friends who visit from out of town and will ultimately morph into a granny house. But for now it can serve as my new COVID-19 headquarters. Safely and comfortably away from my family, yet they are close enough to see every day.

Obviously, not everyone has a guest house, but some of you may have dwelling options in your portfolio.

3. Borrow From Family or Friends

In the Midwest and Northern part of the country there a large number of snow birdswho go to warmer climates for the winter, leaving their dwelling vacant. Many of those same people are planning to wait out the pandemic by sheltering in place in their winter home. This is a perfect option for you, if it is near by. Most of the time it can be used for free, but it would be polite to at least offer to pay for the utilities, or more.

Its surprising how many homes and condos sit empty all winter and spring.
When you think about it for a moment, you might easily come up with some names of people who would be delighted to feel like they are helping the causeby supporting you in this manner.

4. Hospital Call Room-Overnight Space

Yes, I have heard of some who are using those tight spaces in the hospital to hunker down especially if they dealing with high risk patients in their units. This practice does seem to reduce the risk of bringing it home. The arrangement can work, especially if you follow some sort of block schedule like 3 days on and 4 off, or the more common 1 week on and 1 week off cycles. Admittedly this may not be very restful, but it can be an option for some. Make sure you let your hospital administrator know what you are doing if you take this route, as hospitals are often very short on space during the surges.

5. RV-Trailer-Camper

A temporary and portable dwelling can be a great option, and many healthcare workers own portable living spaces such as an RV or camper. So, think outside of the box a bit, and do some backyard camping!

I love how RVs 4 MDshas organically sprung up within the RV-Trailer community in coordination with the medical community. This Facebook group works to coordinate doctors and Trailer-RV owners to work together to fight COVID-19. Whether the unit is parked at your house or the local trailer-RV park, it is a wonderful space to borrow-rent. The Facebook site has coordinators in each state, so reach out to them to check out this opportunity.

6. Free Hotel Space

Many hotel brands have stepped up in hot spot cities around the country to offer housing for healthcare workers. The Marriott and Hilton brands are examples of this. Contact them for housing if you are in one of the hot spot cities, or you are planning to travel to one of these cities as part of a medical relief team.

Hospitality for Hope is organized by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. They have partnered with over 6,500 properties to connect healthcare workers and first responders to temporary housing. You can fill out a form to be connected with a room, but the process does take 2-3 days. 

Local hospitality businesses should be checked out as well. With the travels bans, their business is likely down, and they would be more than happy to help the local community by offering free or reduced priced units to local healthcare workers.

7. Airbnb

This hospitality giant has also launched a new program to reduce fees associated with using their inventory.  Airbnb hosts are offering healthcare staff and first responders places to stay that allow them to be close to their patients and safely distanced from their own families. Their goal is to help 100,000 workers who are engaged in the battle. Make sure you let the host know you are a healthcare worker fighting COVID-19 and they may even reduce their price a bit more. Check out the link to Airbnb

8. Dormitories

Some universities and colleges who are near hot spots have opened their dormitories (which are currently empty) for first responders and healthcare workers to find refuge. Harvard University is a good example of this. So give your near by educational institution a call, and find out if they have a similar program.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to view our family through the protective key-hole of their safety. We have now become our own unofficial Person Under Investigation, and it is forcing us to contemplate where we live, and how that affects our families. It should. I hope these handful of options provide you with ideas to ponder.

Dr. Inc.


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