As Canada faces a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, those working in long-term care and home care capacities are "terrified" not enough equipment is trickling down to keep both them and their clients safe.
One nurse at a private Winnipeg long-term care facility, who asked not to be identified, said that around half of nursing staff and health care aides work at a number of different facilities over the course of a week, sometimes splitting time between locations with positive tests and those without.
"They’re terrified — terrified. Health care aides are crying because they were still admitting patients, they’re coming from facilities where there’s other known cases," she said in an interview Sunday.
"They’re crying, they’re in tears because they don’t have any personal protective equipment to wear on a new resident."
In a news release Sunday, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) noted that despite an April 4 directive from Shared Health instructing all health care workers, including home care, to wear masks, eye protection, gowns and gloves when working directly with patients, many home care workers may not have access to proper supplies until April 13.
"The PPEs are needed today — not a week from now, but today," said Debbie Boissonneault, president of CUPE 204, which represents home care workers in Winnipeg.
"Everyday that they’re not getting a PPE, they’re putting themselves and their clients at risk."
Boissonneault said home care workers, who can see upwards of 15 clients in a given day, have been provided kits with a single set of PPE equipment to use throughout their entire day — a practice she has never seen in her 20 years of health care experience. Some kits have even been incomplete, she added.
Those working directly with clients — many of whom are elderly or otherwise at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 — are feeling anxious and afraid, Boissonneault said.
"We don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t know what we’re walking into every day that we go into a resident or client or patient’s room. We need to make sure that we’re protected and we’re protecting those that we look after," she added.
During a daily press briefing Sunday afternoon, Shared Health’s chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa noted that there are processes for home care workers to screen their clients and that PPE has been distributed to home care facilities.
"If there’s some disconnect there between the worker and the PPE, I think it needs to be raised to the leadership, the management so we can understand where the problem is," Siragusa said.
"They shouldn’t be feeling unsafe. They shouldn’t be feeling like they don’t have what they need to provide care."
Home care workers are not the only health care professionals being asked to work without sufficient protective equipment. Nurses and health care aides in private long-term care homes have also been facing stark PPE shortages, with most not offered new PPE between patients unless those patients are symptomatic or being kept in isolation.
During Sunday’s briefing the province’s chief health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the health care worker at Betel Home in Gimli who had tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, is in fact, negative. He said it was concluded that the worker had a false positive test initially.
The province had said on Saturday that all nine residents of the long-term care home who had been tested for the virus, had negative results.
The Winnipeg nurse said long-term care homes are monitoring their staff’s movement between facilities, but staff who are asymptomatic and may have been exposed to the virus are unable to get tested.
"The rate of transmission between facilities will be astronomical, because our health care aides work at the Victoria Hospital, they work all over the place," she added.
The province had previously relaxed the required 14-day isolation for nurses and health care workers who may have come in contact with the virus in order to ensure enough staff are able to work.
"Most of the exposures that take place in a health care facility are not close and prolonged contacts, the contact tracing is wide and vast so a number of health care workers can be affected, however when we move to those individuals using continuous, universal protective equipment then it becomes less important to ensure that they self-isolate for 14 days," Roussin said Sunday. "If we monitor symptoms, they’re wearing PPE at all times, then the risk is greatly reduced."
Siragusa said Sunday that the province’s logistics teams expect a shipment of PPE to arrive today, and that teams are assessing the needs of all essential services to ensure the equipment makes it to the right hands.
"We are in an OK state right now but obviously that’s depending on our vendors and that the supply chain keeps moving," she said of Manitoba’s PPE supply.
On Sunday, Manitoba’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 surpassed the 200 mark, with nine new cases bringing the cumulative total to 203. Eleven people were in hospital, with seven of them receiving treatment in intensive care. The province conducted an additional 488 tests at the Cadham laboratory, bringing the total number of tests to 12,998.
Manitoba soft-launched its first isolation centre at a hotel in Winnipeg over the weekend, though the province declined to identify the hotel at this point, while it continues to solidify the intake process.
The province is also considering free parking at hospitals to reduce stress for nurses and health care workers, Siragusa said.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.