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More tools needed for fight on home front

Nurse, union worried home-care nurses ill-equipped

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As COVID-19 spreads through Manitoba, some of the province’s home-care nurses say they need more supplies and more support from their supervisors to help keep themselves and their vulnerable patients safe from the virus.

One home-care nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Free Press they are especially concerned about lack of access to hospital-grade disinfectant wipes to carry with them on community visits. Their requests for those wipes, which are common in hospitals, were recently denied by supervisors, the nurse said.

"It should be something we’re provided with even when there isn’t a pandemic," the nurse said. "If I didn’t have my own supply of Lysol wipes I would have nothing to clean myself and my equipment with between clients, which just seems so wrong."

The nurse also described challenges obtaining sufficient hand sanitizer, especially after hours, as supply rooms for home-care nurses are locked on evenings and weekends. The nurse was given one bottle after a shipment arrived, but worries about obtaining more when that one runs out.

Home-care nurses can visit up to 20 patients every day, assisting with issues such as post-operative wound care or managing advanced diabetes. Their patients are largely middle-aged and elderly with complex health needs, and are often among the most vulnerable people in Manitoba.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson has heard the same concerns from home-care nurses.

"The government and the employers need to get on the same page and ensure that all health-care providers are following the same guidelines, that all health-care providers are using adequate personal protective equipment," Jackson said.

"That may mean unlocking those cupboards that have the PPE... and allowing nurses to ensure that they are safe, their patients and clients are safe, that family members are safe when they go from house to house."

The MNU recently distributed a survey to its members, seeking feedback about what nurses across programs and facilities are experiencing in terms of access to supplies and equipment. The union expects to have results of that survey prepared by next week, Jackson said.

"We’re hoping to get a really good idea of... how they’re feeling dependent on where they’re working," Jackson said. "We were getting many, many messages from nurses saying ‘I can’t access gloves, I can’t access a mask.’ It became clear there’s so much conflicting information in this province for front-line health-care providers."

There have been some adjustments to home-care protocols since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Nurses are now asked to call patients before a visit and ask screening questions. They have also been asked to stagger when they return to the office to do paperwork, so that fewer nurses are present at once.

Home-care nurses were also told they would be supplied with gowns and a mask if they were called to treat someone who is known to have COVID-19.

One nurse hopes the home-care program will also look at how to reduce visits, to limit the number of exposures for both nurses and their patients. For instance, the nurse said, some daily wound care visits could be safely reduced to every second day without compromising the patient’s health.

Family members could also be enlisted to carry out some basic support tasks, the nurse said.

"It’s time for the public to think about their family members and how they can help reduce their risks," the nurse said. "If you had an at-risk family member who needed assistance with something like (remembering to take) their pills, wouldn’t you rather be the person to help, rather than a home-care nurse in contact with dozens of people?"

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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