Gordon “Butch” Stewart’s Sandals Resorts International (SRI) has offered the Government a 52-room hotel and has helped to finance 40 ventilators at a cost of $20 million to be used to treat COVID-19 patients.
Sandals has also decided against laying off its permanent workers, opting to pay 40 per cent of their basic salary fortnightly and retain benefits such as health insurance and paid vacation leave despite the temporary closure of all its resorts in the Caribbean.
The Montego Bay-based Carlisle Inn, once called Baby Sandals, the smallest in the Sandals inventory of hotels, was mothballed for sometime prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus. It will be used as an incubation centre for the west.
“The hotel will be at the disposal of the Government for as long as it takes to bring this COVID-19 disease under control,” SRI Deputy Chairman Adam Stewart, son of Gordon Stewart, said yesterday from his Kent Avenue base in the western city.
Sandals, the Caribbean’s leading resort chain, was responding to an urgent call from Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton for assistance, including accommodation for patients recovering from COVID-19, as the Government grapples with the virus which has sickened 26 people in Jamaica up to Wednesday.
“This is a crisis like we have never seen before. Our position is that we are all in this together as tourism stakeholders, as citizens of Jamaica and the world at large,” Stewart told the Jamaica Observer, of which he is also deputy chairman.
Last night, Tufton welcomed the response.
“It’s the kind of response that we are very appreciative of as part of the national plan to respond to this COVID threat. I’m very grateful to the Sandals group,” Tufton told the Observer when contacted for comment.
“When Adam and I spoke, even before the accommodation was discussed, he was willing to play a role from early in the day. He had offered to do whatever he could and we really appreciate this kind of corporate responsibility to addressing this issue,” Tufton said.
“The facility that Sandals has made available is very appropriately positioned to assist, in that it has its own rooms with bathrooms, a common area from which our staff can manage the process, and the location is strategic to Cornwall Regional Hospital.”
He said part of the challenge the health authorities are having is to identify other appropriately located facilities around the country, both in terms of their location and structure.
“We’ve had other offers, but not all of them are appropriate, and so the challenge is to kinda mirror what Sandals has offered, but in other locations around the country. This why we have to seriously think now whether we approach some entities and say, ‘Your location is appropriate, we need to work together to get it done,’ and that applies to Kingston too, because Kingston and St Andrew and St Catherine, where most of the population is, we definitely need space in these areas, and we’re going to have to look at where those spaces are, where they are appropriate, areas close to the University Hospital of the West Indies, for example,” he said.
Sandals is working in tandem with the Keith Duncan-led Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, which is coordinating the business sector response to the Government’s appeal to fund and resource the biggest stimulus package in Jamaica’s history.
The We Care Foundation — an initiative of a group of charity-minded Montego Bay business tycoons chaired by Stewart — pledged $15 million, backed up by an additional $5 million from Sandals Foundation, to finance the 40 ventilators to serve Cornwall Regional Hospital and the western health-care system.
Other directors of We Care are Paula Kerr-Jarrett, Brian Jardim of Rainforest Seafoods, Denny Chandiram of Bijoux Jewellers, Jaime McConnell, Mark Hart, Eleanor Miller, Dmitri Singh, and Candis Craig.
Sandals, like other hotels in Jamaica and the region, has closed its doors temporarily to wait out the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But Stewart had good news for the thousands of employees affected by the closure, saying they would not be laid off, but instead be paid 40 per cent of their basic salary plus the fringe benefits they normally enjoyed.
Sandals also emptied its massive freezers with food and vegetables to make up ‘care packages’ for all the employees who went home with flour, rice, eggs, canned goods, and the like.
“It’s smart business. We were very proud to have done it. It shows the relationship we have with our team members who are at the centre of who we are as a brand,” said Stewart.
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