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COVID-19 anxiety sparks friction between New Westminster testing clinic, landlords

A Fraser Health official COVID-19 test clinic has run into friction with its landlords over virus concerns. Global News

Anxiety over the novel coronavirus is playing out in New Westminster, where a medical clinic says it’s battling its landlord over its role as a COVID-19 testing site.

“I needed to step up and set up this space because it was so urgently required,” said Dr. Lydia Waterson of Royal Columbia Medical Clinic.

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Waterson’s clinic has become a dedicated pandemic test site, a function that gathers valuable personal protective equipment (PPE) in one place and limits potential exposure at other clinics by centralizing symptomatic people.

During the pandemic, the clinic is being funded and supplied by Fraser Health and the Ministry of Health.

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“We’re just trying to stem the tide and keep everybody safe, protect and keep our patients home, and screen the patients that require to be screened,” she said.

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But the clinic’s landlords see the situation differently, and initially demanded the clinic stop testing COVID-19 patients — citing, in part, concerns from other doctors in the building.

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In a phone call with Global News, the property managers said they felt the change in the clinic’s role amounted to subletting it without permission.

However, they acknowledged they did not have the power to shut it down.

“The COVID-19 [testing site] was set up without any kind of notice, acknowledgement, anything to us,” said Columbia Medical Building property manger Nika Rohani.

Waterson described her interactions with the property managers as an “onslaught of harassment,” meant to stop them from testing for COVID-19, an allegation Rohani denied.

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While they admit to demanding the tests be stopped, in a follow-up email, building management said they had never asked the clinic to leave, but noted they had more than 30 other doctors and specialists in the building who had expressed concern.

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“As such, we have a responsibility to all our tenants and the primary concern of our tenants are their staff, patients, a clean environment and clean air,” states the email.

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Asked about potential friction between test sites and landlords Friday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said concerns were unfounded.

“I can reassure people that if there are clinics being established by our health authorities that all of the safety precautions are being taken and that people shouldn’t worry,” she said.

Management said the focus now is on isolating the clinic’s airflow from the rest of the building.

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