'He wouldn't accept cash': RV loans helping healthcare workers sleep better

When a London ICU nurse wanted to rent an RV so she could keep her family safe through physical distancing, a local company provided the trailer, but wouldn't take any money.

Local dealer lent out 15 RVs so healthcare workers don't infect their families

London nurse Barbie Allen says this RV, loaned to her by Can-Am RV Centre in London, gives her a place to sleep free from fear that she will infect people in her family with COVID-19. Allen works in the intensive care unit. (Submitted by Barbie Allen)

Worried she would expose her family to the deadly COVID-19 virus, Barbie Allen was in need of a solution. 

A London nurse with 32 years experience in intensive care units and trauma wards, Allen has been working 12-hour shifts at London Health Sciences Centre with a heavy caseload of COVID-19 patients.

For years she worked in the trauma unit at Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital, where she survived SARS. 

Those photos you've seen of nurses, their faces creased after working for hours in personal protective equipment? That's Barbie Allen. 

But as the outbreak got worse in March and protective gear was in short supply, Allen became concerned she might infect someone in her family. She has three boys at home, one with severe asthma. 

"He's been on a ventilator himself, so, if he were to catch this, the results would be very negative," she said. 

Her fears about infecting someone in her house got worse as the coronavirus caseload increased shift by shift.

"I was not sleeping at night," she said.  "I was so worried, and going into work and dealing with what we're dealing with right now, you need to be rested." 

Her worries about infecting her family are well-founded; hundreds of Ontario healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19 since the outbreak began.

RV to the rescue

Someone suggested Allen rent an RV trailer to park it in the driveway. That way she'd have a place to sleep with her family close, but not so close as to risk infection. 

That's where the Thomson brothers come into the picture. 

Andy and Kirk own Can-Am RV Centre on Colonel Talbot Road. The business started by Andy Thomson Sr. back in 1970 is run by his sons who are looking forward to celebrating the company's 50-year anniversary in the fall.

Thomson Brothers Kirk and Andy have been delivering RVs rent free to help front-line healthcare workers self isolate close to their families. (Submitted by Kirk Thomson)

Allen called Kirk about renting an RV. Two days later, he was backing one into her driveway.

There was only one problem. 

"He would not accept any cash at all," said Allen. "He said 'Oh no, this is the least I could do.'" 

CBC News spoke to Kirk's brother Andy Thomson Jr.

He said his family felt compelled to help after seeing stories about frontline healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients while putting themselves, and their families, at risk of infection.

"I can't imagine going to work every day facing the kind of pressure they're under, and the risk that they're taking," said Thomson.

"If we can do something small to help out, that's the least we can do," he said. "Not a lot of people are buying RVs right now. Our sales department is closed, so these were sitting here doing nothing."

At about the same time the Thomsons were helping Allen, a Facebook page was started in Windsor with the goal of connecting idle RVs with frontline healthcare workers who want to use them to self-isolate. The Thomsons got involved and now, no less than 15 Can-Am RVs are being loaned out — completely free — to local healthcare workers. 

Andy Thomson is quick to waive off any praise. He points out that his is one of many RV businesses across Ontario doing the same thing. It's also happening in Ottawa and Sudbury.

Allen isn't sure how long she'll need the trailer, but says she's grateful it's there. 

She's able to duck into the garage to do a load of laundry. When the weather has been fair, she's been able to join her family outside at a safe distance. It almost feels like normal. 

"I have a COVID lawn chair and they're not allowed to sit in it," she jokes. 

During dinner Allen eats in the RV's breakfast nook while video chatting with her family as they gather around the dinner table only 15 metres away. 

"It's not easy, I miss them a lot," she said. "We're all very close and I'm fortunate that we can still have a lot of good times together."

She says the RV has been a big help as she faces long shifts dealing with critical COVID-19 patients.

"It's stressful going into work," she said. "Because work is very difficult right now. It's hard times, but now I'm able to sleep better and not being so afraid of giving this to my family." 


Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.