October 21, 2020

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Change-up to PPE protocols questioned by unions

New standards meant to ensure gear available for critical areas: Siragusa

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Union leaders representing the province’s health-care workers are cautioning against a return to "typical" personal protective equipment protocols in low-risk settings as the province moves to conserve the high-demand supplies.

Personal protective equipment requirements for staff in some health-care settings are being adjusted to comply with a new supply management strategy laid out by Shared Health on Tuesday.

The province has developed the new personal protection equipment rubric to set appropriate PPE levels for staff in critical and priority areas, said Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa.

"As we had early spread, early on, and our numbers were going up quite significantly, we had a lot of PPE in a lot of places just to be precautious, and be prepared for the situation," Siragusa said.

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, says the new protocols will ensure the province has PPE available for high-risk situations. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, says the new protocols will ensure the province has PPE available for high-risk situations. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

"So now that we do have that flat curve and we are getting more experience, and our testing numbers have gone up, what we want to be able to do is make sure that we have full PPE available for those high-risk situations."

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson says nurses are getting mixed messages about the PPE supply. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson says nurses are getting mixed messages about the PPE supply. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Personal protective equipment requirements will be based on three zones, Siragusa explained.

Green zones are situations involving care for people who are not considered to be infected with COVID-19; orange zones involve care for individuals who meet testing criteria for COVID-19, have been tested, and whose results are pending; and red zones are areas where care is being provided to people with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

A green zone might be a unit in a hospital where people have not tested positive for the virus, or in settings where there is no history of travel or contacts with confirmed cases, Siragusa said.

"So going back to our typical protection wear; we would still wear gloves of course, if you’re dealing with blood or bodily fluids, and you may wear a mask as well, but you wouldn’t necessarily have to have the whole head-to-toe cover, because you’re not dealing with COVID-positive patients, and the spread," she said.

Few other details about the new PPE strategy were released, but Siragusa said regional health facilities would receive the new guidelines Tuesday.

There are no immediate concerns with the province’s stock of personal protective equipment, she noted, though receiving orders in full continues to be a challenge.

"It’s just like watching dominoes fall," Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said of the province’s approach to PPE.

"We are getting mixed messages continuously about the PPE supply and that is the biggest anxiety-causing issue for nurses right now."

The union has not seen details of the new guidelines and questioned the rationale to limit the use of personal protective equipment in lower-risk settings, Jackson said.

"I worry that this is based on supply and not on the safest thing for our patients and health-care providers on the front line," she said.

Shannon McAteer, health care co-ordinator for CUPE Manitoba, said members are being told they have the right to refuse unsafe work if appropriate PPE is not provided at their worksites.

"I absolutely foresee that we will have members, their employees, concerned and worried that stepping back PPE — it’s not the time to do that," McAteer said.

"You have no idea if there’s been a potential exposure or not, and nor will you until 14 days later when someone gets symptoms," she said. "By downgrading the PPE in certain areas, I think we’re opening it up to more risk, more exposure potentially."

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
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Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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