Major Toronto hospitals ration surgical masks in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic and, in some cases, even encourage nurses and other front-line workers to use one mask for an entire shift, says memos obtained by CBC News.
Provincial authorities have stated that there are enough supplies in Ontario for health care workers and that more masks have been ordered and are on the way. But some front-line workers in the Greater Toronto Area say their safety is increasingly threatened.
“They treat us like we are disposable,” said senior hospital nurse Markham Stouffville, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals from hospital management.
According to a memo sent to staff on Monday and obtained by CBC News, Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto now provides a unique procedure mask to healthcare workers every day. A hospital source told CBC News that a nurse would typically wear five or six of these masks during a 12-hour shift.
“It is important that we keep procedural masks for the duration of this pandemic, which will last a certain time,” said the memo. He also notes that masks should be discarded and replaced if they become soiled or contaminated.
“The main value of masking, like auto-filtering, is to keep the environment safe for everyone,” said the notice.
Sinai Health spokesperson Barbara McCully told CBC News in an email that the move is a “short-term measure” that was put in place this week as the organization moves to a new policy outlining use of the mask during the pandemic, which is “being finalized”. and will be published shortly. “
In another memo obtained from a source at Unity Health Toronto, which operates St. Michael’s Hospital and St. Joseph’s Health Center, management said that as of Tuesday evening, everything staff would only have two masks to wear during their shift.
Unity Health spokeswoman Jennifer Stranges told CBC News in an email that, as of this moment, the supply of protective equipment for Unity Health was “sufficient”.
“We are careful and rationally use personal protective equipment to maintain a safe environment for our patients, residents, staff and doctors, “she said.
Anyone “facing the patient” is also now required to wear a procedure mask at all times in patient areas and common areas, the notice said. It also indicates that the masks must be replaced if they are soiled or torn.
“We have a limited supply of [personal protective equipment]”says the memo.” Unless we all work together and use [it] appropriately, we will have shortages. “
‘We are at war’
COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly between people through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. N95 respirators would provide increased protection compared to surgical masks.
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario called on the provincial and federal governments to provide front-line health workers with more personal protective equipment, including masks, and warns that there is already a shortage in hospitals across the province.
“The evidence of an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection requires that all health workers faced with patients, residents and clients wear a surgical mask at all times,” the organization said in a press release on Wednesday.
“We are at war and the enemy is the COVID-19 virus.”
The province has repeatedly said that it works hard to ensure that health care workers have the protection they need. The government announced on Tuesday that it has obtained 12 million sets of surgical gloves, one million N95 respirators and almost six million additional surgical masks.
The provincial government is also planning to deploy a stock of some 55 million expired N95 masks that it stocked after the SARS crisis in 2003.
Ministry of Health spokesman Hayley Chazan said the federal government has also promised to provide Ontario with an additional 500,000 N95 respirators and one million masks.
“We expect these supplies to be delivered at different times over the next few days and weeks,” she said in an email.
“Canaries in the coal mine”
Vicki McKenna, President of the Ontario Nurses Association, said guidelines for N95 masks have been relaxed by many hospitals.
“I started to receive calls from nurses [Tuesday] saying we had N95 masks for those of us who worked with COVID patients or those we screened for or suspected people, but now we don’t, “she told CBC News.
Markham Stouffville hospital spokeswoman Rebecca MacKenzie said in an email to CBC News that there are “a limited number of N95 masks available worldwide.
“The use of N95 masks in environments where they are not needed could create a lack of supply which would expose the staff and doctors involved in aerosol generation procedures on COVID-19 patients to great risks” she said.
But McKenna says health care providers should listen more carefully to nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle.
“These are the canaries of the coal mine,” she said.