As the COVID-19 crisis continues, the union representing nurses in Ontario is concerned stockpiles of personal protective equipment, especially marks, may be running low in hospitals.
Reports are coming in from all over the province of hospitals facing shortages of personal protective equipment for nurses, said Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, which represents nurses at over 600 locations.
“Many (hospitals) in the province who speak about it openly say they have 90 days, some say they have four weeks and some say they have supplies coming in but they have got two to three weeks,” said McKenna. “It is all over the map, to be honest with you.”
Guelph General Hospital did not respond to several inquiries about its current supply of PPE for frontline health care workers.
McKenna said there is a provincial stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) — which includes masks, gowns and gloves — but it is not sharing how much is available to hospitals and other health care agencies that may need them.
“What they keep saying is if an institution or organization needs supplies, they can expedite shipment,” said McKenna. “I can’t get any more information from government than that.”
Every institution is initially responsible for providing PPE for its staff, said Dr. Nicola Mercer, the Medical Officer of Health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.
Mercer said Ontario Health West Region will access the provincial stockpiles of PPE for the area hospitals and other health care agencies that require them.
“There is absolutely a provincial shortage of supplies,” said Mercer. “There will be a triaging (to determine) who gets what.”
Mercer said if any local businesses have surplus unused masks, gloves and gowns can reach out to her office to help ease the shortage.
“I will ensure they get into the right hands,” she said.
McKenna said the Ontario Nurses’ Association does not expect that every nurse working in the province to have a N95 mask, which is preferred for respiratory protection.
“But we do believe those working with COVID-19 patients and the screeners should have the highest level,” said McKenna. “We don’t want infected health care workers. In those situations we now they need the highest level of protection, that is a face shield, the N95 (mask), the gown and gloves.”
McKenna said aside from physical protection from COVID-19, nurses also require mental health protections.
Everyone is feeling stress and anxiety, said McKenna, and health care workers are not immune.
“Everybody is so busy they hardly have the to eat, but we are trying to encourage nurses and other health care professionals to talk to one another, to have someone else to confide in and not hold these things inside. To ask questions and do those things,” said McKenna. “We are hoping our people reach out so they don’t become incapacitated or unable to work because they have become overwhelmed.”