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Coronavirus outbreak: Patient attendants want testing protocols at Montreal hospital to change

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Workers at the McGill University Health Centre say they want to make sure more employees are tested for COVID-19 on a more regular basis. As Global's Phil Carpenter explains, they are also demanding more protective equipment – Apr 1, 2020

The union representing medical support staff at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) has written an open letter to Quebec’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, demanding changes to testing protocols for hospital employees.

Though the workers are being lauded for the work they are doing amid the COVID-19 crisis, they say they need more than just praise from the government.

According to the McGill University Health Centre Employees’ Union (MUHCEU), the lack of necessary tools to keep themselves and their patients safe, they say, is stressful as well as dangerous, and they want immediate changes.

“It’s easy to say we’re guardian angels, but we fell like you’re cutting the wings off the guardian angels,” fumed Kathleen de Melo, the union’s interim first vice-president outside the union’s office just across the street from the MUHC Glen Campus.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Can Canada get front-line health workers what they need before it’s too late?

Melo pointed out there aren’t enough measures in place to protect staff and patients from COVID-19.

“The employees are nervous,” she told Global News.  “I mean there’s some employees, I admit they are crying.  ‘We’re front line!'”

Confederation of National Unions (CSN) adviser to the group, Jean-Pierre Daubois, agreed, and stressed that since the support staff are also working with infected patients, the staff are just as exposed as nurses and doctors.

He added that the testing protocol for support staff, up until March 31st, is putting the entire hospital at risk.

“This thing of working until you really develop the symptoms, without a procedure of testing, is creating, to us, a very catastrophic scenario,” he argued.

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MUHCEU president Robert Lagueux gave one example of a kitchen worker at the hospital who recently tested positive for the virus.  Lagueux claimed the employee worked with three others who showed no symptoms.

“All these people worked in a closed environment in the kitchen, yet no tests were provided for the other [three] members,” according to Lagueux.

He pointed out that a person who is contagious might not show symptoms for up to 48 hours, and that’s why more testing is needed.

In addition to more testing, union representatives are pushing for more protective equipment and say it seems there wasn’t proper planning.

READ MORE: Family criticizes Verdun long-term care facility over measures to contain COVID-19 outbreak

“What plans did they take in advance to order all these masks and all these stuff?” de Melo wanted to know.  “I mean, we’re just two weeks [into the crisis] and we’re already scared.  What will happen when we get to the peak of infections?”
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In the letter to the Public Health Director, the union is asking the government and the hospital to “amend the testing protocol to ensure that each health-care worker is tested once a week.”

During his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday with the Quebec premier, Arruda said he’d consider the request.

“We will look at it with our scientific teams, and if it’s recommended and if we get the availability to do the test, I think that the answer would be yes,” he said.

“But we need to make the evaluation and put this into a global strategy about health-care workers, obviously.”

Premier François Legault said during the same briefing that more equipment has been ordered, and should be available soon.

De Melo said the workers won’t abandon their post because they made a commitment, but she and union officials hope the government and the hospital administration take their concerns seriously.

“Because if we get sick, who’s gonna do the job?”