Shipping containers have been furnished for visits at a Metro Vancouver long-term care home. (Fraser Health)

A B.C. health authority is finding a creative way to facilitate visits at a long-term care home during the COVID-19 pandemic by using renovated shipping containers.

Fraser Health announced Monday that the Queen's Park Care Centre in New Westminster now has a shipping container onsite for distanced but private visits.

The container is heated and furnished and has separate entrances for residents and families. There's a clear Plexiglas partition between visitors and residents.

"It's an innovative way to bring families together," said Karl Segnoe, whose 92-year-old grandmother lives at Queen's Park Care Centre, in a news release.

"I have every confidence in the staff to keep my grandmother safe, but I fear social isolation is taking a toll on her well-being. Being able to visit as a family will be huge because my grandmother is such an important person in our lives."

There is space for up to four visitors at a time.

When outbreak restrictions aren't in place at the facility, families can book private visits. They must wear a mask, sanitize their hands, complete a COVID-19 screening with a temperature check and use the visitor entrance.

A health-care worker will escort the patient or resident into the container, but there is no contact outside before or after the visit.

Throughout the pandemic, care homes have been hit the hardest, with approximately two-thirds of COVID-19-related deaths happening in those facilities. The emotional toll has been significant too, with in-person visits restricted.

More than two months ago, B.C.'s seniors advocate recommended that every person living in long-term care be allowed an essential visitor. But some families are still being denied that status. 

The Ministry of Health has previously said essential visits include those paramount to the resident's physical care and mental well-being.

Last May, PARC Retirement Living set up similar meeting centres in storage containers at some of its facilities across the Lower Mainland. In those, residents could book 45-minute visits and the space was completely cleaned between visitors.

Each of those units cost between $15,000 and $20,000 to construct. 

 While the container visits are still behind a partition, Fraser Health says it hopes these alternative to window visits in a dry, warm place offer a little more privacy.

"Residents in long term care and their families have endured so much during the pandemic," said Dr. Victoria Lee, president and CEO of Fraser Health, in the news release.

"I'm grateful to the Queen's Park Healthcare Foundation for helping us move this project forward so families can connect with their loved ones in this unique way."

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Michele Brunoro