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Coronavirus: B.C. care workers say 70% are seeing ‘critical’ shortage of supplies

Coronavirus outbreak: Alberta to send hundreds of thousands of PPE to other provinces
WATCH: Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenny said Saturday the province will be able to contribute 750,000 N95 masks to other provinces in need.

The association representing B.C.’s seniors’ care workers says a strong majority of its members are facing a “critical” shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) amid the coronavirus crisis.

SafeCare BC says it conducted an “urgent survey” Friday and heard from nearly 500 workers in long-term care homes, assisted living facilities, home support and community living across the province.

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

The results paint a grim picture.

Seventy per cent of those who responded said they are currently experiencing a shortage, with the same number saying they expect to run out of surgical masks by the end of next week.

Close to 40 per cent said they expect to run out this weekend, or didn’t have any in stock.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: B.C. teen uses 3D printer to make face shields

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Just over half of those surveyed, 52 per cent, said they have no N95 ventilator masks in stock, while 25 per cent said they only had enough for up to three days.

Sixty-two per cent said they expect to run out of hand sanitizer by the end of next week.

“Every day, we are contacted by our members, who are desperate for personal protective equipment to keep workers and the people they care for safe,” SafeCare BC CEO Jen Lyle said in a statement.

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“We now need B.C.’s health and political leaders to do more.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Alberta to send PPE to Quebec, Ontario and B.C.
Coronavirus outbreak: Alberta to send PPE to Quebec, Ontario and B.C.

The association says they have been directing all PPE donated to them by the public through their Operation Protect project toward the provincial supply chain, with the expectation that some of it would be redistributed to long-term and continuing care facilities requesting it.

However, SafeCare BC says out of 72 facilities requesting more PPE from the province, only three have actually received it.

“Multiple care providers have received invoices for the donated items,” it said in a statement.

READ MORE: UBC med students organize protective-gear donations for front-line COVID-19 workers

The association is now calling on public health officials to “immediately designate long-term care homes, assisted living facilities, community living and home care providers as a priority for access to PPE.”

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It says it has also requested meetings with Health Minister Adrian Dix, the CEOs of the province’s health authorities, WorkSafeBC and others this weekend to address the shortages.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Saturday that PPE supply levels are at a “reasonable place” across the province, adding domestic production that has started in B.C. and across Canada will soon lead to more equipment like gowns.

Masks and PPE still for sale in B.C.but not all are created equal
Masks and PPE still for sale in B.C.but not all are created equal

“We are in an okay place right now in B.C. for all the medical equipment that we need, but we are continuing to get what we need for the future and making sure that we are supporting across the country,” she said, pointing to recent shortages in Ontario and Quebec.

“We are not in the place where we are able to share — we still need what we have to manage here — but there is really good co-ordination across the country to make sure everybody has what we need, and if hotspots arise the equipment comes.”

Alberta announced on Saturday it would donate 250,000 N95 ventilators to B.C., while shipping other medical supplies to Ontario and Quebec. The combined worth of the supplies being shipped to the three provinces was estimated at $41 million.

READ MORE: B.C. brings in new measures to protect supply chain amid COVID-19 crisis

Twenty long-term care facilities are continuing to see outbreaks of COVID-19, accounting for over 200 of the province’s 1,445 lab-confirmed cases. Residents of those homes have accounted for 36 of the 58 deaths from the disease in B.C.

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Henry said the number of patients under the age of 40 is due to health-care workers contracting the virus, yet she added many have only had mild symptoms.

Global News has reached out to the province’s joint COVID-19 information centre for comment on SafeCare BC’s claims.

SafeCare BC says its 864 member organizations employ roughly 28,000 workers, out of which 478 workers responded to questions in an online survey.