More than 160,000 N95 face masks that were stockpiled by Saskatchewan had expired before the coronavirus pandemic hit, according to government documents, raising concerns over the Ministry of Health’s management of personal protective equipment.
Six years ago, the masks and other medical equipment were removed from storage as part of a cost-saving measure promoted by the government’s lean management system.
The masks were stored in the pandemic room at the Regina General Hospital, which documents show was an unorganized area with no signage and no indication of where supplies belonged.
The pandemic room also housed many unrelated items including non-pandemic supplies.
Of the 588,000 items in the room, close to 300,000 were disposed of, including 166,000 N95 masks.
According to government documents, getting rid of the items saved the Ministry of Health around $10,000 by freeing up space, but it cost taxpayers around $90,000, which is the estimated cost of the trashed items.
“This shows how shortsighted and how much mismanagement happened here,” said health critic Vicki Mowat.
“There is a responsibility to frequently rotate that stock, and the government needs to own up to the fact they didn’t do that and they didn’t maintain that supply. Essentially it’s a waste of money Saskatchewan taxpayers have funded.”
Although the masks were expired, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the use of expired masks under “crisis” shortage situations.
Health Minister Jim Reiter said it’s “not ideal” to allow the masks to expire.
“We need better processes. They can always be refined,” Reiter said.
During the pandemic, Reiter said the government has been keeping an eye on expiry dates to ensure supplies are put into the health-care system in time. Those supplies then are replaced with new ones.
As of now, the government has at least a 30-day supply of PPE, with masks “significantly higher” than that, Reiter said.
Acquiring PPE has been a challenge for the government as there has been a global shortage of masks, specifically N95 respirator masks.
“Orders were put in and in some cases, partial orders were delivered, some cases none at all. The Saskatchewan Health Authority and the ministry are continuously working on that,” Reiter said.
“Generally, the supply chain is better right now, but we’re concerned in case of a second wave, so they’ve been building up supplies.”
According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, as of June 30, there is 110 days’ worth of PPE masks and 1,115 days of N95 masks on hand.
— With a file from ReutersView link »