NORTH BAY -- Residents at the Empire Living Center got a chance to test out a unique new product, one that removes the Plexiglas barrier during visits.

"It's a great opportunity for us to have something like this visitor pod for our residents to try out," said general manager Barb Spencer.

The pod is currently set up outside the facility and has two separate spaces. One side is designed for the resident and the other for visiting guests, with only a plastic sheet between them, making it easier to see, hear and interact.

"As you know, visitation was limited through the last few months with COVID, so for us, it's always about looking for new ideas that we can get visitors into see their loved ones," said Spencer.

The new pod was designed by Nor Environmental Industrial, who set up the pod for a trial run at no cost in order to get feedback from people who would actually be using it.

"It's too easy to just offer a product and say it's good," said Nor Environmental Industrial CEO Louis Brown. "We knew technically that it was more than acceptable, but we wanted to incorporate what the residents feel, what changes could we make? So running people through it in this trial, we have a checklist after and ask them questions to see how they like what we have now."

Positive feedback

So far the feedback has been positive.

"It's been fun! It's been really enjoyable," said Patricia Wilson who tested it with Yvette Joyce, who both live at Empire Living.

"We had other ways to talking and I was down there with my daughter and I couldn't hear what she was saying and this just made it perfect."

Right now, outside visits are still an option at Empire Living Centre with a Plexiglas barrier, however, it isn't the best option.

"What they found with the Plexiglas, however, was that they couldn't hear each other because they had to be far enough away," said Spencer. "The difference with this kind of pod is that the sound is good. You know, they can touch hands on the plastic, again, because they're both in completely closed areas."

A number of safety measures are also in place, making the pods safe to be in even without masks and other PPE.

Filter system is key

"Key to this is the filtered system," said Brown. "It's a medical certified filter system, so that's getting rid of the particulate viruses and everything else. The way the process works is in between visits, everything is disinfected and wiped inside on both sides."

"The area that the resident enters, there is an air exchanger in there so they're getting purified air, which is fantastic," Spencer added. "And they're coming in one entrance, the visitor is coming in another entrance, therefore it's really keeping them separate."

The pod also allows for more than one guest to visit at a time.

"When I think of the way we did before, my daughters came. When one was in, one waited in the car outside. We had to trade," said Joyce. "I haven't seen my grandchildren since January, now they could all come at once. It would be wonderful."

Brown said the pods are around $10,000 and he hopes that government support will be made available so the pods can be more accessible.