The Clarion Hotel on Congress Street in Portland will offer free rooms to hospital workers from Maine Medical Center and Northern Light Mercy Hospital. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in an occasional series called Maine Acts of Kindness, highlighting volunteer and philanthropic efforts during the pandemic.

Clarion Hotel in Portland is donating 50 of its rooms through the month of April to provide a clean, safe place for health care workers from Maine Medical Center and Northern Light Mercy Hospital to rest and recharge before returning to the front line battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve had a number of folks reach out to us with discounted rates but Clarion is the first to contact us for the no-cost option,” said Jenny Hutchins, the director of human resources at Mercy Hospital.

The donated rooms were first made available Saturday evening. So far the use has been minimal – Hutchins said no Mercy Hospital staff had stayed as of Sunday afternoon – but is expected to be of greater importance in the coming weeks.

“This is really awesome for our staff to have not only a place where they can go and not have to go right home after being on the front lines, but also for our staff from other Northern Light facilities that we may need to call on to support for any increased number of patients,” Hutchins said. “To know they have this opportunity at no cost to them is just huge, and one less thing that they need to worry about.”

Clarion is owned and operated by Olympia Hotel Management. The company, with headquarters in Portland, runs 26 hotels in the eastern United States, including four in Maine. A similar program of donated rooms has been in operation at Olympia’s Sophy-Hyde Park hotel in Chicago near the University of Chicago Medical Center.

“We understand, I think, what the medical community is looking for,” said Sara Masterson, the president of Olympia Hotel Management and a Scarborough resident. “Our Hyde Park hotel has averaged about 50 rooms per night to the medical community.”

Other hotel companies have offered free rooms for doctors and nurses fighting the coronavirus pandemic in several major cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Dallas and Phoenix.

Masterson said health officials at the two Portland hospitals have indicated to her that the need for nearby hotel rooms for their staff could increase in the next two weeks. The director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Nirav Shah, has pointedly avoided saying when the coronavirus outbreak is expected to peak in Maine, or what levels the public health agency expects for hospitalizations. In Maine, 86 people had been hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as of Sunday, with 10 deaths attributed to the illness.

This weekend President Trump said the “toughest weeks” are still ahead for the U.S. Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker said his state expects a peak surge of hospitalizations between April 10 and 20.

Masterson said donating rooms to health care workers was “our opportunity to be good partners in the face of this crisis and really support” the employees at both Mercy Hospital and Maine Medical, the flagship hospital of MaineHealth.

In a company statement, MaineHealth said it is “grateful to The Olympia Companies and the many other businesses that have stepped forward to support our care team members during this challenging time. Not only do these contributions provide additional resources in our efforts to care for those impacted by COVID-19, this generosity lets the women and men on the front lines know that their community stands behind their efforts. MaineHealth is currently evaluating this generous offer of assistance, along with others, to determine how to best put them to work in support of our caregivers.”

“I think the way communities really get through these challenging times is supporting each other,” Masterson said. “Call that kindness, or call that gratitude for what we have. Really, it’s a privilege to provide resources to the front-line community. We’re a Maine company. This is our home, where our heart is.”

Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order Friday that, in part, mandates the suspension of all lodging operations in the state through the end of April. But there are exemptions for renting rooms to workers in essential jobs, health care workers, as well as to the homeless, children in emergency situations and people at risk of domestic violence.

Masterson said the Clarion does have some other guests who are considered essential workers, like contractors working on federal construction projects and truck drivers.

To protect all groups, including the Clarion staff, the health care workers will be isolated on two floors of the hotel, with a designated elevator and entrance for their use with an expedited check-in process. Health care guests will be asked to place any used linens or towels in provided trash bags, which will be kept separate for 72 hours before being washed in a high-heat cycle.

“We’re really limiting contact both for their health as well as our own staff,” Masterson said.

Having a free room to go to after working with patients with COVID-19 can also relieve emotional stress, particularly for nurses or doctors who are wary of possibly bringing the coronavirus home to their families.

“It’s just that extra layer of protection in order to keep themselves and their families safe,” Hutchins said.

Are there folks in your community going out of their way to help others during the virus outbreak? If so, please send details about their efforts to [email protected]

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