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Health-care workers win greater access to PPE

“As we continue to plan and prepare, our current supply of PPE has improved steadily in all categories since the height of the pandemic," Lanette Siragusa said Tuesday. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

“As we continue to plan and prepare, our current supply of PPE has improved steadily in all categories since the height of the pandemic," Lanette Siragusa said Tuesday. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

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Manitoba health-care employees and the province are hailing an agreement that provides front-line workers with greater access to personal protective equipment.

Nurses and other health-care workers across the province will have more access to N95 respirators and will now be allowed up to two procedure face masks per shift, Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa announced at a news conference Tuesday.

"As we continue to plan and prepare, our current supply of PPE has improved steadily in all categories since the height of the pandemic," Siragusa said.

"The global production of supplies continues to improve; our shipment orders are arriving on time in the quantities ordered and of the quality they’ve been ordered in."

The new protocol will allow N95 respirators to be available for all health-care workers providing care to confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases upon request, amends guidelines to implement a two-mask-per-shift policy, removes restrictions on workplace accommodations for health-care workers, and establishes a committee to monitor PPE supply and usage in order to ensure a lasting stockpile of equipment.

The Manitoba Nurses Union announced the victory in a release Tuesday morning, noting the changes mark a resolution to nine grievances filed against Shared Health at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

"MNU and nurses in this province had been advocating and speaking out for months with regards to the lack of appropriate, adequate supplies of PPE," MNU president Darlene Jackson said in an interview Tuesday. "There’s been many, many concerns from nurses in the province with regards to the ever-changing guidelines, the direction on extended use of masks, reuse of masks. We’d been talking about this since March."

Jackson said the MNU was set to go to arbitration in early June, but the employers and province conceded last minute and agreed to a memorandum of agreement between all parties.

"I’ll be really clear that this settlement would not have been reached without MNU taking legal action. This is the result of many, many, many grievances filed by nurses who stood up and said this is not safe for my patients, this is not safe for the public, and this is not safe for nurses," she added.

Siragusa said the province currently has a minimum 30-day supply of all protective equipment.

"We didn’t anticipate a global shortage of PPE... so we’re definitely in the planning looking at how we can stockpile," she added. "We are looking months ahead and we are looking at making sure we have that stockpile available."

Though Manitoba currently reports only five active cases of COVID-19, Siragusa warned the impact of the novel coronavirus in the months and years ahead is still unknown.

"COVID-19 is still a threat in Manitoba," she said.

"We anticipate that PPE procurement will be an ongoing challenge that will require close scrutiny in the foreseeable months. And while we continue to adapt the PPE guidelines based on evidence and based on circumstances, we still do encourage clinical providers to embrace these changes but also remain vigilant in their efforts to conserve PPE as much as possible."

The Manitoba NDP celebrated the province’s decision in a statement Tuesday, but criticized government as well.

"It’s unfortunate the Pallister government waited until Manitoba’s COVID-19 case count was at a record low before finally listening to nurses and agreeing to give them and other health-care workers the life-saving PPE they need and the ability to determine appropriate usage," wrote NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara.

Siragusa told media the changes came about after negotiation with the MNU, though the changes will be applied throughout the health-care system.

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.

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Updated on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 5:20 PM CDT: Final version of story.

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