Northern Saskatchewan First Nations communities concerned over lack of PPE for health-care workers

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Northern Saskatchewan First Nations communities concerned over lack of PPE for healthcare workers
WATCH: The health authority for northern First Nations made a three-day and eight-week PPE surge request for its staff working in its health facilities – Apr 8, 2020

The health authority that represents northern First Nations communities is worried its frontline workers will not be equipped to deal with COVID-19.

The Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) said it has received only a partial fill of one of its February orders for personal protective equipment (PPE).

NITHA has made a 72-hour surge request to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health for 41,000 procedural and N95 masks and face shields; 1,300 boxes of nitrile gloves; 8,000 surgical gowns; 30,000 hand sanitizers; and 5,000 swab kits.

“Based on our last assessment of inventory, 40 per cent of our health sites do not have the necessary PPE to support an outbreak. We have 500 staff working at health facilities throughout our communities and of the inventory set aside for public health emergencies, much of the PPE has expired,” said executive director Tara Campbell.

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NITHA’s board chair said she recognizes there is a global shortage of PPE but is concerned that the province hasn’t contacted First Nations for their needs following the federal government’s COVID-19 response package.

“The impact of this disease would be devastating and we are asking for clear communication from the provincial and federal governments that our populations in our member communities will not be left out of the process when it comes to the amount of PPE needed in northern Saskatchewan,” Chief Carolyn Bernard said.

The authority also made an eight-week surge request for 765,000 masks and face shields; 24,000 boxes of nitrile gloves; 149,000 surgical gowns; 60,000 hand sanitizers; and 93,000 swab kits.

The Ministry of Health said the federal government is starting to ship PPE items to the province through a collaborative procurement order, but they aren’t in the amount that was ordered.

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“The items received in Saskatchewan from the federal order will be shared throughout the health system to ensure the highest priority needs of citizens across the province are met,” read a statement from the ministry.

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It added officials from the ministry, NITHA and ISC discussed the provincial order and the needs of First Nations communities on March 26.

NITHA serves 55,000 members across 33 communities.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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