Catholic retreat center converts to coronavirus quarantine site
In Washington state, one of the first coronavirus hotspots in the United States, an empty Catholic retreat center will temporarily transform into a quarantine facility for coronavirus patients, the Diocese of Spokane has announced.
In February, the cancelations were already piling up from individuals and retreat groups scheduled to visit the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, located just south of Spokane.
Prospective retreatants, fearful of the novel coronavirus, which was just beginning to be detected in the United States, were fearful of coming together with people from other households and potentially contracting the virus.
“We were looking at a significant loss of revenue,” Michael Pallardy, development officer for the IHRC, told CNA.
The retreat center officially closed its doors in March, and as of June, it became clear that the center would likely have to cancel all of its retreats and events for the rest of the calendar year. While Deacon John Ruscheinsky, director of IHRC, and his team strategized about the future of the center in light of the coronavirus pandemic, he received an unexpected offer from Dr. Bob Lutz, Clinical Director of the Spokane Regional Health District.
Lutz proposed that in partnership with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington and the IHRC, the retreat center could temporarily be used as a quarantine facility for those with COVID-19. “So Deacon John Mashinsky went to Bishop Daly and told the Bishop what was proposed and asked the Bishop, what do you think?” Pallardy said. “And the Bishop gave him his blessing and said, ‘Please proceed, see if this possibly can happen.’”
“I wish to thank all parties involved for the professional manner in which they have addressed this temporary transition of IHRC from retreat center to a quarantine facility,” Bishop Daly said in a statement announcing the change. “Please join me in prayer for its success. May Our Lady of Lourdes guide our efforts in helping others in need.”
The quarantine facility, which is set to open by the end of August at the latest, will serve “individuals who are actually diagnosed with COVID-19 symptoms, or those who had tested positive, but weren’t showing symptoms yet. They also said that we would be helping the most needy and vulnerable of our society, so those individuals who are living on the street, who have no place to go who become ill and therefore become a carrier (of COVID-19),” Pallardy said.
Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, which has been open for more than 60 years, has 64 dormitory rooms in the main building, kitchen and dining facilities, and normally serves more than 7,000 retreatants in an average year. The plan is to separate the symptomatic patients and asymptomatic patients in the center, Pallardy noted.
He added that it seemed “obvious” to allow the retreat center to be used for this purpose, because “part of our mission is to help. Immaculate Heart is a place where people come for hope, peace and healing, and how best can we help those who are suffering with this illness, but to help them heal and in a prayerful place and a peaceful place?”
Pallardy said the work has already begun to transform the retreat center into the quarantine site – additional security cameras, air conditioning, and other updates are being made, and the health district and Catholic Charities staff are moving in while the retreat center staff are working from home. The contract with the Spokane Regional Health District states that the retreat center will be used as a quarantine site until the end of December, at which point the agreement will go to a month-to-month basis depending on the needs of the community, Pallardy said.
“Nobody knows what the fall or winter is going to be like with COVID and what pressures it’s going to put on our community,” he said. Pallardy said the facility could host families with children who are quarantining together, and would be open to people of all religions. He added that the retreat center, though serving a different purpose, will still be considered a ministry operating under the direction of Bishop Daly and the Diocese of Spokane.
Ultimately, Pallardy said the plan was providential in that it allowed the retreat center to continue operating for future use and it allowed the center to be used to help those most immediately in need. “To help our community and help the most vulnerable during this pandemic to heal is a godsend.”