The head of the nurses union at the Ottawa Hospital is calling for better protection and training for nurses when dealing with potential Ebola cases, saying a suspected case of the virus last weekend exposed safety issues.
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Union local 83 president Frances Smith said her members were nervous about the equipment they were using during the suspected case, even though the hospital had escalated its Ebola response.
"They are very concerned that they are properly protected," she said. "They don't want to potentially bring something home that could harm their family members."
There's just one bed in the Ebola Isolation Room at the General Campus of the Ottawa Hospital.
On the walls, posters show staff how to properly use their personal protective equipment: the gloves, gowns and masks meant to keep them safe from the potentially deadly bodily fluids that can transmit the disease.
Skin exposed for some nurses, union says
But Smith said nurses expressed concerns about gowns that left forearms and ankles exposed and headgear that doesn't cover their necks.
"One trainer actually told one of the nurses, 'well, work with your head down,'" she said. "Well that's not realistic. So we need... to make sure that we don't have exposed skin."
Smith said the gowns being used by Ottawa's nurses are also not fluid proof — only fluid resistant — and that's of particular concern because Ebola patients suffer from extensive vomiting, diarrhea and blood loss.
The nurses union is also calling for mandatory training for proper medical gown protocol for all hospital staff — from doctors to cleaners — who are expected to enter the room of someone with the deadly disease.
The nurses' concerns are fuelled in part by the spread of the disease to two medical workers in Texas.
Ontario's ministry of health is expected to announce Friday which hospitals it's designating to deal with potential Ebola cases, including at least one facility in Ottawa, meaning nurses could potentially be called upon to handle more cases here.
Hospital responds, says it's working with union
The Ottawa Hospital issued a statement Thursday, saying the safety of hospital staff is of "the utmost importance."
"As we prepare to respond to potential cases of Ebola virus disease, we are working with our union partners to ensure our frontline staff members have extra levels of personal protective equipment, above and beyond what current provincial guidelines recommend," the hospital's statement reads.
The hospital said thicker gloves covering the wrists have already been provided, that it is acquiring hoods that fully cover the head and neck, and that it's planning ongoing training and consultations for staff.
"The hospital has heard nurses' concerns about the need to provide staff with more training on how to put on and remove their personal protective equipment," the statement read.