A group of Edmonton nurses has refused to swab patients for COVID-19 due to a dispute over personal protective equipment.
“There was a small number of nurses this morning, as I understand it, that felt they may not have adequate protection,” Dr. Mark Joffe said during a Saturday update by Alberta health officials on the virus. Joffe is an infection prevention and control physician and the Alberta Health Services medical director for northern Alberta.
“As is their legal right, they made a choice not to provide the care that was being asked of them.”
The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) said around 30 nurses in Edmonton have “exercised their legal right to refuse work that they perceive to be dangerous to their health.”
The issue surrounds the type of mask nurses wear when collecting samples. N95 respirators provide a much higher degree of protection as opposed to surgical masks.
“The nurses believe they require an N95 mask to properly protect themselves when performing the work that is being asked of them (nasopharyngeal swabs) and if they ask for one, they should be provided with one by the employer, no questions asked,” UNA first vice president Sandi Johnson said.
Alberta Health Services said it conducted an investigation and determined the work was safe and the regular surgical masks provided to the nurses for the swabs was appropriate.
“They (the nurses) did not require an N95 respirator,” an AHS statement read.
The province’s health authority said it is confident its guidelines and equipment protect frontline workers from exposure to the novel coronavirus.
“These guidelines are in alignment with both the Public Health Agency of Canada the World Health Organization, and with other provinces and territories in Canada,” AHS said in its statement.
“The personal protective equipment guidelines in place in Alberta are the known best practice to protect against illnesses transmitted by droplet. This means wearing a procedure mask, not an N95 respirator.”
AHS added frontline workers who follow proper procedure will be protected, and it must ensure equipment is being used appropriately to ensure it has an adequate supply of N95 respirators.
Johnson said in order for the nurses to resume work, they want the employer to respect their request for N95 masks or they will wait for the result of an investigation by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS).
AHS said the nurses are working alternate duties until OHS concludes its investigation.
“We continue to talk with our unions on this important issue, and share the same goal of ensuring our frontline health care workers are safe,” an AHS statement read.
On Sunday, the province announced an additional 33 cases of COVID-19, bringing the total positive cases in Alberta to 259.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness.
People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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