Potential Ebola patient ‘horror stories’ in Canada concern nurse union

WATCH: Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions president Linda Silas on why her group is concerned about Canada’s preparedness for an Ebola case.

TORONTO – No protective suits in the province of Nova Scotia as of yet, potential Ebola patients in common waiting rooms, and gloves and gowns that don’t fit in hospitals across Canada are some of the “horror stories” the president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions is concerned about.

“As of yesterday there were around 10 test cases or false alarms—across Canada,” said Linda Silas, whose organization represents 200,000 nurses across the country. “We have to iron out those mistakes before the first patient walks in the door.”
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READ MORE: How does Ebola spread? 5 things you need to know

Silas was set to speak with Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Gregory Taylor Wednesday afternoon to try to get Canadian healthcare workers ready for a potential case of the fatal disease. She says despite months of scientists and bureaucrats meeting to form policies on paper, those protocols haven’t hit workplaces yet—and healthcare staff need to be ready now.

“What our nurses are saying is they are not fit-tested for the equipment yet,” she said.

“They don’t know how to put it on and they don’t know where a patient would go: Would they be in a rural hospital or would they be directed to major centres? Those are basic questions; we should have answers today.”

Janet Hazelton is president of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, and she says the latest Ebola case in Texas is likely to increase concern among her members.

“We have just as many international flights as Texas,” she said. “It can happen anywhere.”
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Hazelton informally spoke with a couple of nurses in the province Wednesday afternoon, who said they hadn’t yet been made aware of any protocols specific to an Ebola case.

WATCH: Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s chief medical officer, has heard the concerns of nurses and will continue to do everything possible to assure them that the front lines are safe.

She questioned the practicality of Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang’s announcement that protective suits are on order to be split between the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre and the IWK Health Centre, both in Halifax.

“They have $100,000 of suits on order, so they’re not here,” she said. “If someone was admitted tonight, what are they going to do?

“I’m a nurse, I watched the [protective equipment training] video, I know how to use the suit; now I go to get the suit—there’s no suit. Now what do I do? Or what if you’re one of the hospitals that don’t have suits? What are we supposed to do in those situations? We need to be answering those questions for nurses not tomorrow or next week. Today.”

Dr. Strang’s office didn’t immediately return a request from Global News. This post will be updated with any response.

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READ MORE: How did the Dallas worker catch Ebola?

Hazelton’s concerns are shared by nurses in Ontario—who issued a statement Tuesday fearing the province isn’t fully ready to deal with a real case—in British Columbia–where the union president said 60 per cent of major hospitals aren’t up to speed with proper infection control procedures–and in Alberta, where nurses were given wrong information regarding what kind of mask they needed to wear to protect themselves during an Ebola scare over the weekend in Edmonton.

Alberta Health Services acknowledges the concerns and says it will revise its protocols and procedures, and provide immediate training.  AHS president and CEO Vickie Kaminski insists the safety of staff is “an absolute priority.”

WATCH: Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care says he will consider any and all measures to keep healthcare workers safe when dealing with potential Ebola cases

Hazelton says getting those procedures down to the front line level is often easier said than done.

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GlobalMedic is a charitable organization that’s been responding to the Ebola outbreak by delivering protective equipment to areas including Sierra Leone. Director Rahul Singh isn’t surprised that Canadian healthcare workers don’t feel ready to deal with the disease on home soil.

“Unless you’re managing and running a crisis in real time and looking at the flaws and trying to fix those flaws, you haven’t learned,” he said. “So I understand why leaders in the public have to say, ‘Don’t be alarmed, we’ve got this, we’re in control,’ but behind closed doors, they really need to look at it and say, ‘Where are our weaknesses? And let’s fix those weaknesses.’”

Singh emphasized the importance of muscle memory, repetition and making safe protocols part of a routine, which he says hasn’t been happening since Canadian staff don’t have such experience.

He suggests more could be done in West Africa.

“In reality, the battle should be fought on the front line over there, and that battle needs to be fought by really filling the supply chains,” he said. “And if we do more there—guess what? We won’t have to do as much here.”

The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions is set to release a statement by Friday; Hazelton says it will focus on ensuring healthcare workers have the proper equipment.

“That is always the crux.”

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With files from 630 CHED and Patricia Kozicka, Global News

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