From Olympic ice to field hospital in a couple of weeks



  • Eight hospitals joined forces to secure a 500-acre city-owned recreation complex to become the field hospital in the fight against COVID-19
  • Aruba provided Grand River Hospital turnkey networking bundles to quickly gain secure connectivity to support patients and staff

Transforming four Olympic-sized ice rinks at RIM Park Manulife Sportsplex into a field hospital expands our COVID-19 inpatient capacity by 600 beds

As a joint strategy for gaining hospital bed capacity for COVID-19 patients, our institutions came together to harness the power of collaboration. By combining the efforts of Grand River Hospital, St. Mary’s General Hospital, Cambridge Memorial Hospital, Guelph General Hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph, and the Wellington Health Care Alliance we’re creatively establishing overflow facilities to continue meeting community healthcare needs here in the Waterloo area of central Ontario, Canada.

Devising scalable facilities for capacity on-demand

Our pandemic response journey began a little over a month ago. Initially, we focused on developing facilities within university campuses or hotels for non-COVID-19 patients, thus freeing up hospital beds for those with the virus. Later, we determined that we would need a field hospital due to the rising COVID-19 patient load, particularly as infection rates soared among individuals associated with long-term care settings.

Spearheaded by Grand River Hospital, we secured the 500-acre city-owned recreation complex called RIM Park to become the field hospital. Among other amenities, it houses four Olympic-sized ice rinks with 20 large shower-equipped dressing rooms in the Manulife Sportsplex.

Because each of the Sportsplex ice rinks are separate, we took advantage of the layout to design a field hospital that could be scaled out in four phases, based on need. Each ice rink could be converted to an approximately 150-bed inpatient unit, with the resulting total of 600 beds added to our regional capacity.

In parallel, we worked on an initiative to implement safe, secure, efficient COVID-19 testing centers, which would significantly increase the number of individuals we’re capable of processing per day. For walk-in testing indoors, we moved the COVID-19 testing center from the St. Mary’s main campus to the Regional Cardiac Care Centre, which is closed during the pandemic. In addition, we’re installing portable buildings on a large parking lot adjacent to the Grand River Hospital to enable drive-thru testing.

Hundreds of beds in a matter of days

Designing and establishing a sizable field hospital required close collaboration between multiple departments from each of our institutions. To equip, staff and operate the facility, will also be undertaken together.

Like any other healthcare facility, it was imperative to supply field hospital staff with access to electronic medical records (EHRs) as well as provide them with familiar tools and equipment. For EHR, it was determined the facility would use the solution in place at Grand River and St. Mary’s, Cerner. All participating institutions would contribute wired and wireless medical systems, such as workstations on wheels (WOWs), diagnostics systems, laboratory equipment, bedside devices and more.

As we were finalizing the design phases, our local Aruba rep contacted us with news of turnkey networking bundles the company was providing to institutions like ours. Each bundle included high-performance wired switches, wireless access points (APs) and a user experience insight sensor.

To cover our field hospital, indoor walk-in testing and outdoor drive-thru testing, we needed six bundles which included 18 APs, 12 switches and six sensors for critical healthcare application assurance and rapid troubleshooting of user and device experiences.

Pandemic response ensures readiness now and for the future

Today, we’ve completed various planning and preparation phases, such as cabling, network design, Internet fiber connection installation and printers. For installing the Aruba wired and wireless network, we’re familiar with the process due to completing a recent refresh at St. Mary’s just prior to the pandemic.

Given our positive deployment and support experience with the St. Mary’s refresh, we’re confident we can complete the networking infrastructure at each field hospital segment within hours. The balance of the medical equipment and environmental elements can be deployed in days.

Meanwhile, we’re also finishing the drive-thru testing facility. There, we’ll enable staff mobility by extending connectivity to internal systems via an outdoor AP that is part of the turnkey networking bundle we’ve gratefully received.

Moving forward, we expect to install five of Aruba’s sensors at our field hospital as it’s a 15 minute drive from our primary data center. The sensors, along with the accompanying management console and analytics, will considerably improve our ability to remotely fine-tune and troubleshoot performance at a user and device level.

We’re confident the strategy we’ve developed for the current situation will serve us well for future crises. Considering the enormity of the challenge, it’s of immeasurable comfort that our networking partner can bring us high-quality solutions that are reliable, fast for us to deploy and easy to use.

Imran Hussain is the Integrated Manager Information Technology and Infrastructure at 665-bed Grand River Hospital and 165-bed St. Mary’s General Hospital, which share a common medical staff and have many joint positions. Combined, the hospitals have been serving the Kitchener, Ontario, region of Canada since 1895. Hussain first joined St. Mary’s more than eight years ago and became Integrated Manager at the two hospitals in January 2020. He has over 20 years of experience serving in various IT roles.