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Coronavirus: Kitchener hospital responds to nurses association concerns about COVID-19

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A Kitchener, Ont., hospital is responding to concerns revolving around possible coronavirus exposure raised by the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA).

On Saturday, the ONA issued a release calling on St. Mary’s General Hospital to “expedite COVID-19 testing and support more than 50 nurses who have been exposed to the coronavirus while caring for a patient.”

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ONA president Vicki McKenna said registered nurses at the hospital were exposed to the virus while caring for a patient in the emergency room who was screened for influenza and not COVID-19.

“Nurses were exposed as they performed emergency medical procedures on the patient that made the virus borne by air; the patient was not isolated,” McKenna said.

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“And worst of all, nurses were unable to access N95 respirators when they performed the procedures, as their employer strongly discourages nurses wearing them.”

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McKenna then went on to say more nurses were exposed to the virus by a co-worker and some are now sick themselves.

However, St. Mary’s president Lee Fairclough said the story put forward by the ONA isn’t “entirely accurate.”

“St. Mary’s has strong infection prevention and control policies that align with provincial standards and the provincial public health directive. When a potential exposure occurs, we have a clear process to investigate it quickly.”

Fairclough said “extensive investigation and followup” took place with the staff members who were potentially exposed. He said the patient tested positive for the virus on March 19.

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She said over 50 staff were exposed and that six staff members became symptomatic and were referred to public health to “fast-track testing.”

“We have not tested those who are asymptomatic because it is not believed that it is effective, and as such, not reflected in any provincial guidance,” Fairclough said.

The Ministry of Labour contacted the hospital, Fairclough said, about a complaint lodged from ONA. Fairclough said the hospital “acknowledged it immediately” and worked through it.

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“I care about staff at St. Mary’s, and it has been my goal since starting as president in January of 2020 to establish an open and collaborative environment,” Fairclough said. “Many of the nurses in our organization have been welcoming and open to bringing suggestions forward.

“I hope that will continue, and I extend the same invitation to the ONA leadership to the highest level provincially.”

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