Sudbury team designs prototype for mobile COVID-19 assessment centre

A physician and an entrepreneur from Sudbury have teamed up on a project they hope could help healthcare workers assess patients for COVID-19.

Dr. Dennis Reich and Tom Fortin say their design would help keep healthcare workers safe

A window in the shipping container would separate the patients from the medical staff. (Submitted by Dennis Reich)

A physician and an entrepreneur from Sudbury have teamed up on a project they hope could help healthcare workers assess patients for COVID-19.

Dr. Dennis Reich and Tom Fortin have completed a prototype of a mobile assessment centre, built using a shipping container. They hope health units in northeastern Ontario and beyond will use the design when setting up new COVID-19 assessment centres. 

"The goal would be to have these things in locations where you don't, you can't have the capacity to set up a station like you would have on Walford [road in Sudbury], for example," said Reich. 

"These things are portable, you can have them in remote areas, you can stick them on trailers and set them up in a day and run them for a few days and then bring them to another location. They're very, very versatile in a pandemic situation."

Protecting healthcare workers

The idea for the design was inspired by Reich's own knowledge of the challenges in finding suitable locations for assessment centres, and avoiding contact between potentially infected people and others.

Fortin designed the prototype, which he said addresses those problems.

"It basically allows us to have the person interface with the medical staff, but not actually go into a building," Fortin said. 

Tom Fortin, left, and Dennis Reich, teamed up on the project. They completed the prototype within about two weeks of coming up with the idea. (Submitted by Dennis Reich)

The 6-metre shipping container includes a small room, with a window where a medical staff member on the other side can do swabs. 

"The unit is actually pressurized, so the air is always flowing from the medical side to the patient side," Fortin said. "So there's no chance of contamination inside where the medical staff are."

Fortin said he chose a shipping container because it is portable, and readily available. He said the material costs for the unit came in at around $15,000 — with the total cost, including labour, closer to $30,000. 

'A reusable asset'

About two weeks after first coming up with the idea, the pair completed the prototype this week. They said they've been in touch with officials from some hospitals and health units. They hope when it's time for another assessment centre to be set up, local health units will consider using their design. 

They said they've also partnered with a DNA lab in northern Ontario, which would have the capacity to process tests locally, reducing the wait time for test results.

The relatively small, easy to transport shipping containers containers could be store, and reused during future pandemics, said Reich and Fortin. (Submitted by Dennis Reich)

They also hope the model could be used elsewhere in Canada, and even internationally. And, Fortin said, the design could come in handy again, down the road. 

"When we're done with this pandemic — hopefully soon — you close the doors, and you can store it for 20 years or 10 years, until the next pandemic comes. So it becomes a reusable asset."



To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.