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Nurses’ union raises alarm over supply of personal protective equipment in southwestern Ontario

FILE PHOTO.
FILE PHOTO. File Photo / Reuters

Southwestern Ontario hospitals are down to a five-day supply of surgical face masks with face shields, a seven-day supply of N95 1870 masks and an 11-day supply of N95 8210 masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Ontario Nurses’ Association Local 100 in London, Ont.

In a letter to members dated April 2, bargaining unit president James Murray says that “after making repeated requests,” the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) released the inventory count for surgical masks with face shields and for various N95 masks. The letter adds that there is a 37.7-day supply of N95 1860 masks, while the 1870+ is no longer available.

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The equipment is supplied by Healthcare Materials Management Services (HMMS) and the union says it provides equipment to roughly 20 hospitals in the region covering Windsor to Woodstock.

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“We were also advised that HMMS has ordered 500,000 masks, which are currently held at Chinese customs, plus they sourced another 700,000 masks from a new global supplier, but those masks are yet to be produced and there is concern that American-made components for the mask may be restricted for sale within the USA only, so we have no guarantee the company can deliver,” Murray wrote.

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“I cannot understand (LHSC’s) rationale for withholding this information, while actively denying the existence of such a critical shortage of PPE. It is unconscionable and a complete failure of senior leaders’ obligation to ensure the safety of LHSC employees.”

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Murray adds that the local has spoken with LHSC about allowing nurses with personal supplies to bring their own as health-care workers are on the front lines against COVID-19, but the hospital is not supporting that at this time.

“I expect that practice will change and if I was on the front-line I would wear it regardless of how the employer felt.”

Murray ended the letter by reminding members of their right to refuse unsafe work.

LHSC and St. Joseph’s Health Care London responded in a joint statement, saying the figures “recently made public are only a snapshot” of a “complex and rapidly changing supply chain.”

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“While a limited number of days-on-hand supply may seem concerning, it does not mean the hospitals will actually run out of stock at that time, but rather indicates an area of concern for our procurement partners.”

The statement added that there are “supply pipelines and fail-safes in place” to ensure all hospitals in the province are able to access PPE.

“LHSC and St. Joseph’s actively participate at both the regional allocation table and the provincial allocation task force, both of which use daily supply data to ensure safe and equitable PPE distribution based on immediate need across the province.”

The statement also stressed that while the hospitals are asking care providers to “be responsible with PPE use,” they are “not asking people to go without” and they “will not have staff or physicians working without proper PPE.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Inside the frontline fight for masks, protective gear