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Niagara Falls MPP says province falls short in providing PPE for health care workers

Posted: May 23, 2020

(May 22, 2020)

By: Ray Spiteri, The Niagara Falls Review

Health Coalition executive says situation is improving but there is still a need for more


Wayne Gates is calling on the province to do more to protect front line health-care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Niagara Falls New Democrat MPP was at Queen’s Park this week with a limited number of MPPs and called on the government to provide more personal protective equipment.

“There is nothing more important than a worker going to work and feeling safe,” he said. “That was true before this pandemic and it’s true now more than ever. But in Ontario, this is not happening.”

Gates said in his riding there are personal support workers and custodians on ventilators in intensive care units “because they weren’t provided proper PPE.”

He said 17 per cent of Ontario’s confirmed cases are health-care workers, a 10 per cent jump from early April.

“We’ve heard it from the front lines: They need more PPE and they need the right PPE. When will these front-line heroes get the equipment they need to stay safe themselves when they’re keeping us safe?”

Minister of Health Christine Elliott agreed everyone working in health care deserves to be protected with the right PPE.

“The premier has been working on this, each and every day, to make sure that we bring personal protective equipment in through our regular supply sources, but also through Ontario,” she said.

“We have been able to work with Ontario companies to produce PPEs so that we never have to be in a situation again where we’re dependant on imports from another country, because there’s been international demand for PPE.”

Elliott said Ontario companies are now producing disinfectant and PPE.

“All of this equipment is vitally important to protect those heroes on the front line — for themselves and for their families’ health as well.”

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition which advocates for publicly funded health care, said while access to PPE has “improved somewhat” during the last few weeks it remains an issue throughout the health-care sector.

“There are a significant number of outbreaks in long-term care, in hospitals, in retirement homes, in congregate-care settings,” she said.

“There are outbreaks that are resolved. In some cases, they will have a resolved outbreak and then another outbreak. What that says to us is that the measures that have been taken so far are not sufficient to stop the spread.”

Mehra called a lack of PPE “instrumental” to the problem.

“There are deep concerns that the actual directives from Public Health Ontario, the directives and guidance that have been put out, are the wrong ones — that they treat this as a droplet and contact spread only, and not as airborne — and that, therefore, the PPE that the staff can access are insufficient to protect them.”

She said it’s still difficult to get N95 masks for a “whole array” of staff who are exposed to COVID-19 patients.

“Surgical masks, generally, (staff) might be in the same mask for the entire day, or for two days in some cases. They’re not allowed to change those masks unless they’re visibly soiled, generally speaking.”

Mehra said prior to the pandemic, hospital staff would not be going “from patient to patient to patient wearing the same surgical mask.”

“That is happening routinely now, even some staff who are going into COVID hot zones and cold zones wearing the same surgical mask from patient to patient to patient,” she said. “That is not an acceptable standard of infection control under any circumstances, and it’s being done because there’s a shortage.”

Vicki McKenna, a registered nurse and provincial president with the Ontario Nurses Association, said the issue of PPE is “certainly a concern.”

“We’re in conversation with government almost daily about supply and there is supply, absolutely, but the key is to make sure you have the supply where you need it when you need it,” said McKenna, whose union represents 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as 18,000 nursing student affiliates, across the province.

“I know some areas are struggling to make sure they’ve got what they need for the people that they’re caring for and also the health-care workers, to protect them because if the health-care workers are protected, so are the people that they’re caring for.”

She said the procurement and purchasing of PPE is a “global issue.”

“Everyone wants it, we want it. There are situations where we know it hasn’t been there when they’ve needed it and those are ongoing issues that we’re dealing with and it’s front and centre for us every day.”

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