Private doctors offices feel supply chain pinch
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
Private doctors and practitioners who fall outside of provincial jurisdiction say their safety is falling through the cracks as shortages of personal protective equipment continue to put pressure on Manitoba’s health-care system.
In a news release Tuesday, public health officials recommended Manitobans not forego care for regular and chronic medical conditions, noting primary care providers and community health offices would continue to be open to the public through the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s just one problem: a local health-care product distributor — whose main clients are private physicians — says PPE supplies have come to a halt, meaning private doctors’ offices have had to shut their doors to in-patient visits.
“We’re having major struggles at our company trying to get any of the product in,” a salesperson for a local distributor, who asked to remain anonymous, said in an interview Wednesday.
“What’s happening now is clinics are locking their doors and they’re saying if you phone us and you need to see us, then we’ll let you in.”
On March 15, Manitoba approved virtual care visits for doctors, who are now able to assess patients over the phone or via video link to reduce face-to-face interactions.
Some clinics, such as the Assiniboine Medical Clinic in Winnipeg, have alerted patients it will be taking all visits over the phone unless an in-person exam is required.
“We have heard from an increasing number of doctors who simply do not have the necessary protective equipment,” Dr. Fourie Smith, president of Doctors Manitoba, said in a statement Wednesday.
“Hearing today that 10 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Manitoba are health-care workers is concerning, to say the least. These are health professionals who are no longer available to care for patients.”
Protective equipment such as N-95 face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and gowns are provided to health-care practitioners through a few different avenues. The province can negotiate contracts directly with manufacturers, such as American company 3M, but private clinics get their supply from either a retailer (who sells to the public) or a distributor.
The nationwide shortages of PPE start at the top, with manufacturers struggling to meet global demand.
“We have nothing. Every day, we spend probably 25 per cent or more of our day explaining to customers that we can’t supply stuff,” the distribution salesperson said.
“We’re stranded, other companies similar to us are stranded, and the worst part is the clinics don’t have access to this product to be able to see their patients.”
In the middle of a national PPE shortage, provincial tenders come first, said Karen Veldkamp-Perry, who runs local health-care retailer Canadian Health Care Products.
“There is definitely a shortage, but the shortage is direct from manufacturers, and what I can say 100 per cent is that the government gets first dibs,” she said in an interview Wednesday.
“It’s frustrating all around but we understand that the frontlines, those guys need it.”
Shared Health Manitoba has mandated all health-care providers, including those in private practices, use appropriate PPE when working in-person with clients. In a statement released Sunday, the province noted Manitoba’s COVID-19 supply chain is preparing to meet supply and distribution needs for all practitioners the week of April 13.
“Doctors continue to provide care for patients, even as they hear stories from other jurisdictions about doctors who have died after contracting COVID-19 while caring for their patients,” said Smith.
“We urge provincial officials in the strongest possible terms to provide the protective equipment that they themselves recommend to physicians without delay.”
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a climate reporter with a focus on environmental issues in Manitoba. Her position is part of a three-year partnership between the Winnipeg Free Press and The Narwhal, funded by the Winnipeg Foundation.