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Beds at the Citywest step-down facility last year (file photo) Leon Farrell/

Average occupancy of Citywest isolation facility was 13.8% during first six months of pandemic

The facility opened to ease pressure on the health service in March 2020.

THE AVERAGE OCCUPANCY of a 756-room HSE-run isolation facility in Citywest was just 13.8% during the first six months of the pandemic, new records show.

An internal audit by the HSE of the contract for the Covid-19 facility at the Citywest Hotel in Dublin found that 104 people on average used the service every day between April and September 2020.

The centre opened at the beginning of the pandemic as part of efforts to ease pressure on hospitals in Dublin and surrounding areas at a time when it was feared the number of people who would be hospitalised with the virus could dramatically increase.

The Government sought provide accommodation for members of the public who could manage their symptoms and were required to self-isolate, but who were unable to do so at home.

The opening of the facility followed decisions to close schools and other institutions on 12 March last year, and to impose a stay-at-home order and a ban on non-essential travel from 27 March.

A HSE audit of the contract agreed between the health service and the Citywest Hotel, completed in June of this year and released to The Journal’s investigative platform Noteworthy under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that the facility was leased from 26 March “in anticipation of an imminent surge in Covid-19 cases”.

“The contract terms included the cost of staff to provide hotel services including catering, housekeeping, cleaning and sanitation, as well as waste disposal, maintenance, utilities, and insurance,” the audit report reads.

“The lease (in technical form a licence) was for the period to 31 December 2020, with the HSE having an option to terminate after seven months.”

  • The Noteworthy team wants to find out if funds on Covid contracts were spent wisely and rules followed. Support this project here.

According to the audit, the cost of the contract was based on going rates for hotel and conference facilities before the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the assumption of 100% occupancy of Citywest’s 756 hotel rooms throughout the duration of the lease.

The hotel’s convention centre was also deployed as a step-down care facility, providing 450 beds to people who have tested positive for Covid-19.

A negotiated cost of €3.51 million per month for a minimum of seven months (a total of €24.57 million) was approved by the Department of Health before the facility was opened.

However, in its first month open, just 70 people on average used the self-isolation centre each night – an occupancy rate of 9.2%.

The number dropped further – to its lowest point – in June 2020 when just 56 people on average isolated at the hotel each night (7.3%), though it peaked two months later when 163 people on average isolated there each night (21.5%).

In total, 19,874 people stayed at the facility between the end of March and the end of October 2020.

An outline of licence terms also shows that the HSE paid €122.68 for each of the 756 rooms every day between 26 March and 22 October 2020, bringing the cost of accommodation alone to almost €19.7 million for the first six months of the contract. 

Catering also cost an average of €22 per person per day, equal to around €437,228 in total.

However, the audit’s author attributed the low use of the isolation facility to the success of Covid-19 laws and guidelines at limiting the spread of the virus among the general public.

“Due to the success of the pandemic control measures nationally in this period, the occupancy of the 756 contracted hotel rooms in the six months April to September was only 13.8%,” the report reads.

An option to terminate the initial contract after six months was exercised by the HSE in June 2020, and a new licence was agreed on different terms for the period from 23 October 2020 to June 2021.

A reduction in the daily cost of 71% was negotiated, while a lower room rate and a lower minimum number of rooms were also agreed upon.

In September, it was also reported that the Citywest Hotel’s contract with the HSE was extended again and that it would continue to be used until 2022. However, this was not covered by the terms of the HSE’s internal audit.

The audit concluded that the original contract was “terminated and replaced on more favourable terms at the earliest opportunity”.

“The necessity for large-scale isolation facilities for people affected by the virus had not been planned for when Covid-19 struck Ireland,” the report concludes.

“[The HSE] were suddenly presented with the task of sourcing such facilities under conditions of extreme urgency and uncertainty, and they succeeded in doing so by securing the Citywest campus, an eminently suitable premises, with a fully worked-out service contract with the owner, in under three weeks.

“Community Operations brought the self-isolation facility into use immediately.

“This impressive achievement is not diminished by the fact that the assumption of full occupancy turned out, fortunately, to be unrealised, and that the first licence did not contain the more flexible utilisation provisions as negotiated in the second licence, which superseded the original at the first opportunity after seven months.”

The report also found that the procurement of the facility was carried out in accordance with EU regulations applicable to the emergency situation happening at the time, and that the contract addressed the HSE’s requirements.

A number of key recommendations arising from the procurement of the Citywest Hotel were recommended, including the creation of a register of similar facilities as preparation for the risk of a similar emergency in future.

The author also found that the HSE should ask the Department of Health to “consider legal powers for public authorities to requisition private property in the event of future national public health emergencies”.

  • These HSE audits were provided to The Journal by our colleagues at Noteworthy – our investigative platform. They obtained these through a freedom of information (FOI) request as the Noteworthy team are hoping to investigate in more detail HSE spending during the pandemic. Find out more about their project here.

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