Kelowna doctor says there's a 'critical shortage' of masks, PPE for healthcare workers - InfoNews

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Kelowna doctor says there's a 'critical shortage' of masks, PPE for healthcare workers

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March 29, 2020 - 1:49 PM

A Kelowna family doctor has taken to collecting personal protective equipment for healthcare workers as she says there has been a major shortage in Canada for weeks.

Janneme Frouws, a family physician in Kelowna, is promoting the Maskaherobc.ca campaign by asking for donations amid the shortage. She believes the shortage needs to be taken more seriously.

“I feel the message on how dire this is, is not getting to the public through the official channels. The healthcare workers on the ground are under extreme stress and anxiety because of the situation because they’re the ones at risk,” Frouws said.

During Wednesday’s media conference, provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry acknowledged there is a personal protective equipment shortage in the province, as equipment is being used at a higher rate than expected. She said the province is ordering new shipments and looking at alternative measures to preserve PPE.

READ MORE: Protective equipment supply 'wicked problem,' says B.C. health officer

Gloves, masks, face shields, isolation gowns, coveralls, and N95 respirators are considered to be PPE. 

“Doctors, nurses on the ground are dealing with sick people and they’re extremely scared because their supplies are rationed and they’re not allowed to speak out,” Frouws said.

As a part of a Canada-wide COVID-19 Facebook group for healthcare workers, she’s seen thousands of reports of people being distressed over the lack of PPE.

“I am in constant (contact) with physicians… (who know) what is going on on the ground. The constant theme over the past three weeks has been the lack of PPE,” she said.

READ MORE: Health officials sound alarm over looming shortage of protective gear

They’re close to running out of ventilators in Quebec and she said by her own estimates, Canada will be out of ventilators by mid-April.

In speaking out, she wants to ensure that people are taking the pandemic seriously.

“The more people that are not isolating properly, the more this is spreading and overwhelming us,” she said. “In reality, it’s the healthcare workers that are putting their lives at risk.”

Frouws said it’s hard to determine an exact number of how much PPE equipment is needed, but estimates about 200 million units are needed for Canadian healthcare workers, based on her conversations with epidemiologists, she said.

“That is the estimate on average,” she said.

Her clinic is currently closed as they're only conducting phone consultations, but they tried to order masks two weeks ago and were unable to find anything.

“And this is the same with every single doctor I’ve talked to. None of the suppliers have masks,” she said.

Nurses and doctors are allowed to bring their own masks to the hospital, but they can’t find any, she said.

She said UBC Okanagan is helping by collecting donations, storing them and distributing them as needed.

Studies show cloth masks are not as effective to hospital masks, so the recommendation is against using cloth masks in the hospital but she said there's still value in having them.

She recommended that hospital masks be reserved for frontline workers, but cloth masks are still better than no masks and could be used for other workers like those in grocery stores and if hospital masks run out.

If you have PPE that you’re able to donate, contact Frouws at maskdonationskelowna@gmail.com.

"Processes are in place to ensure personal protective equipment and other required supplies are distributed appropriately across Interior Health, and made available where and when needed," Susan Duncan, communications officer with Interior Heath, said in an emailed statement. "There has been unprecedented demand on personal protective equipment supplies in recent weeks in B.C., which is the reason for a centralized supply process. We have already heard initial success stories as supply hubs are being established in IH and sites are finding they had more stock than they realized."

All health authorities routinely redistribute PPE to different warehouses as needed and this is continuing to be done. While it may feel like certain supplies are low at one site, or in one area, stock is available in the province for redistribution. In order to assess all opportunities to preserve critical PPE supply levels, IH’s largest acute care sites will begin the collection of used disposable N95 masks. These masks will be sterilized and stored as part of a provincial initiative for emergency backup supply to regular inventory," she said in the statement.

"A team has been pulled together in the Provincial Health Services Authority Supply Chain to manage the outpouring of offers of support from suppliers and manufacturers both locally and globally. Through this work we know that millions of pieces of PPE have been secured for our supply chain, and they continue to follow up on new sources daily. The Ministry of Health is also engaged with provincial and federal counterparts to ensure continued access to PPE within our province," Duncan said in the statement.

- With files from The Canadian Press


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