When the Espresso Hotel tried to get Paul Gull to give up his room, the former Waswanipi Chief dug in his heels.
“I told them three times I’m not leaving,” Gull told the Nation. “If they’re going to kick me out, I’m going to camp out in the lobby.”
Despite Gull’s threat of a sit-in, an increasing number of Cree patients are being forced to temporarily relocate from their long-term accommodations at the Espresso Hotel in Montreal. The hotel has 76 rooms reserved for the use of Cree Health Board clients, and under normal conditions provides access to up to 150 rooms. The latest moves resulted over the weekend of May 18-19, affecting about 20 patients.
“I got a call first, then a knock on the door,” recalled Gull, who has been at the Espresso since February recovering from a pelvis fracture. “They said: ‘You’re supposed to check out.’ I said: ‘I’m not supposed to check out, I’m a long-term patient – I’m not leaving.’”
Gull then called Wiichihiituwin (formerly Cree Patient Services), who told him that it was the Espresso’s decision. Espresso management said that Wiichihiituwin is responsible for randomly selecting who is relocated when capacity is exceeded. After talking with manager Joe D’Agata, Gull was told he could stay.
The Espresso Hotel won the Cree Health Board’s 2016 call for tenders to centralize lodging in a more homey and secure environment, separate from other guests. The CHB supervised renovations of a few floors to upgrade the rooms and add community spaces and clinical support. Numerous services have been added since, including an on-site nurse and doctor.
“It is very difficult to predict short-term increases, and it does happen from time to time that we don’t have enough rooms at Espresso to accommodate everyone,” CHB Communications Coordinator Katherine Morrow explained in an email. “When that happens, the Cree Health Board will first try to find additional vacant rooms within Espresso itself, but if these are fully booked because of an event or something happening in the city, we have to look elsewhere.”
Gull believes the most recent overflow was due to two nights of concerts at the Bell Centre by the pop star Pink. It was alleged that rooms at the Espresso already paid or purchase-ordered by Wiichihiituwin were instead sold to Pink fans for more money.
“I heard people with children, babies, moving to another hotel,” said Gull. “I heard other people not moving but bunking in with another patient. I don’t know how many patients left – I think it was 20 or more for two nights, then they put them back after Pink left town.”
According to Wiichihiituwin, the hotel was indeed fully booked months ago due to the Pink concert and another big show, so there were no additional rooms available at the Espresso. This happens more often during festival season, when there are very few hotel rooms available, and prices can spike to hundreds of dollars a night.
In these situations, the CHB covers the costs of alternative accommodations, usually in Brossard or Dorval, while working with the Espresso to find available rooms. Medical condition determines which clients are relocated, with those having mobility issues or very fragile health given priority.
Morrow pointed to a 26% increase in the number of appointments booked by Wiichihiituwin over the last two years, partly due to more patients with chronic diseases. The CHB is finalizing a procedure to cover overflow situations, which will come into effect August 1 if approved.
“Once the procedure is adopted, our clients will understand more clearly why they are sometimes asked to move,” stated Wiichihiituwin Director Helen Belanger Shecapio-Blacksmith.
The CHB is negotiating with Espresso to increase the number of protected rooms in the hotel, aiming to increase their protected block from 76 to around 115. “The CBHSSJB regrets the inconvenience and hopes that by increasing the size of the protected block of rooms, these situations will happen less frequently,” Shecapio-Blacksmith said.
Her department coordinates travel, lodging, meals, local transportation and medical appointments for over 30,000 clients annually in Montreal, Chibougamau, Chisasibi and Val-d’Or. With so many hospitals and clinics spread across the city, Montreal is the busiest and most complex to manage.
Wiichihiituwin clients who are dissatisfied with their services can file a complaint with Sarah Cowboy, the Commissioner of Quality Services and Complaints, Morrow pointed out. The toll-free complaints line is 1-866-923-2624.