Nurses’ union ‘extremely concerned’ about rationing of PPE in health-care facilitie
BC Nurses’ Union president Christine Sorensen wants more transparency from the government when it comes to the province’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health workers.
“We are calling on the government to be very clear and explain what the current stock of PPE is in B.C. and exactly what they’re doing to acquire more equipment and masks,” Sorensen told BC Today.
Of utmost concern for nurses is the supply of N95 respirator masks, which are critical to protecting them from becoming infected as they treat increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients.
“We have been reassured that there’s enough personal protective equipment today and in the short term, but … this pandemic will go on for some time. And we do need to understand the level of equipment that will be available to nurses throughout.”
Last week, Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province had reached a “critical phase” in its PPE supply as frontline workers began burning through equipment faster than expected.
The decline was aided by the failure of some bulk orders placed with international suppliers to materialize.
N95s being refurbished, kept under lock and key
Since then, no further details on the provincial PPE supply have been released, and Sorensen said she has already heard about severe rationing of N95 masks.
In some B.C. facilities, nurses are being asked to “take unconventional measures” to ration equipment.
“They’re being collected for decontamination and refurbishment,” Sorensen said. In some cases, nurses are only being given one N95 mask per shift and “unless it’s soiled or damaged, they are not able to replace it.”
Sorensen worries about the effectiveness of reused masks, noting they are intended to be a single-use item.
“We learned a lot from the SARS epidemic, and nurses died during the SARS epidemic,” she said. “We do not want nurses, doctors and other health-care workers to die as a result of the failure to use appropriate PPC.”
Some facilities have put their PPE under lock and key to prevent workers from taking more than is deemed necessary.
“This is very concerning,” Sorensen said. “Nurses are professionals — they understand how personal protective equipment works. They aren’t going to use it inappropriately, and we need to make sure it’s available for them.”
NDP says it’s fighting to procure more supplies, won’t comment on shortages
Health Minister Adrian Dix says the province is doing everything it can to obtain critical supplies. That includes working with Ottawa on procurement, putting the call out to B.C. businesses who might have supplies to donate, and looking for alternative sources.
But with multiple countries dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, the global market for PPE is very tight.
“Everybody in the world right at this time is working on procurement supplies for their health-care staff, including everything from personal protective equipment to ventilators,” Sorensen said.
The health ministry was cagey when asked what protocols are in place to ensure PPE is being used effectively.
“We must all diligently and deliberately manage, monitor, and utilize PPE supplies appropriately, strategically, and in response to the situation on the ground,” officials said, adding that “ensuring the safety of health-care workers is critical.”
The health ministry said it is working with the Provincial Health Services Authority to ensure PPE and other medical supplies are being shared across the health-care system, while prioritizing critical areas.
“The focus is currently on conserving existing PPE while actively procuring additional supply through any and all avenues,” the ministry said in a statement.
Sorensen wants the NDP government to be specific about the shortage, even if the situation is severe.
“The public and healthcare workers will adapt to the information,” she said. “They absolutely won’t be pleased with it, but they will adapt.”
With B.C.’s supply running low, slowing the spread of COVID-19 through the province’s population becomes even more critical.
“What we are hoping to do with the effort to flatten the curve is to minimize the numbers of patients that are coming in … until such time as more N95 masks can be obtained,” said Sorenesen. “That’s really critical for the public to help support us with at the time.”