British Columbia

From a rifle range to the film industry, businesses answer nurses' calls for donations of protective gear

Vancouver nurse Laine Mostert said she knew protective gear needed by medical staff was lying unused in her community. So, with a group of colleagues, she began to hunt for them.

Caches of urgently needed supplies offered up by rifle range, prop master and chemistry lab, among others

Vancouver nurses Laine Mostert and Lourdes Cua went hunting for protective gear that people were willing to donate to hospitals, and look what they found. They say this is a fraction of the donations from generous B.C. businesses. (Laine Mostert)

Vancouver nurse Laine Mostert said she knew protective gear needed by medical staff was lying unused in her community.

So the 27-year-old began to hunt for it.

With the help of a growing group of colleagues from Vancouver General Hospital, Mostert and co-worker Lourdes Cua spent last Thursday and Friday calling anybody they knew to get leads — reaching out to university laboratories, wood shops, a furniture company and even a Langley shooting range.

Their efforts resulted in a carload of donated protective gear, much of it brand new.

The nurses' efforts highlight how personal networks are providing vital supply chains for items urgently needed for health-care workers as they treat patients with COVID-19 and fight to stem the spread of the coronavirus — and also the precarious nature of official supply chains for these products. 

Their experiences also revealed how many Canadian residents and businesses are keen to help health-care staff any way they can.

Among others, donations came from the cadet corps, the University of British Columbia's chemistry labs, film-industry prop masters connected to superhero series DC's Legends of Tomorrow, and a real estate agency.

All were eager to help, Mostert said.

"It gives people purpose at a time when they feel really stuck sitting at home," Mostert said.

"People were pretty excited that they had the means [to help]. They didn't think [what they had] was the same quality or standard of supplies."

Keith Burville, general manager of The Range Langley, with some of the supplies he donated. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'It was a call to arms'

When Keith Burville, general manager of The Range Langley, learned gear in his inventory might be useful, he leapt into action.

"Basically, it was a call to arms. We have people out on the front lines who didn't have everything they needed. We had it. We are shut down except for law-enforcement training. ... So we wanted to get it where it was needed the most," said Burville.

The Range offered up protective eyewear, rubber gloves and a mask and filters.

Burville said his parents served in the British army and air force in the Second World War, so he grew up knowing to always be prepared.

"People plan for things but no one can plan for what we are facing right now," he said.

Several other companies that provided gear declined interviews.

Mostert said once word got out, donations began to fill her small Vancouver apartment. Those who didn't have any personal protective equipment offered hot leads.

"Everyone's network is their biggest asset right now," she said.

Some of the haul donated to health-care staff after a donation drive by Laine Mostert and her colleagues. (Laine Mostert)

'A drop in the bucket'

Networking is key when trying to source something like masks during a pandemic, says Jonathon Karelse, CEO of NorthFind Management, who specializes in strategic sourcing or supply hunting.

This week, he donated 15,000 surgical and N-95 masks he was able to source in China to Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody, B.C.

With mask-producing factories in China facing 25 to 30 times their usual demands, Karelse said it was a challenge to secure an order.

He said it was was "extremely satisfying" to get around "red tape" and get masks into the hands of medical staff — but it still felt like "a drop in the bucket."

These masks were sourced in China during the pandemic and shipped to Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody. Supply-chain expert Jonathon Karelse says it took him five days to secure the order. (Tiffani Lee)

'Unprecedented' need

Karelse says it's crucial for health authorities, governments and any organization that relies on a crucial supply of goods or products to strengthen their supply network so they can weather a crisis and keep operating.

While he applauded Mostert and her colleagues who leveraged their personal networks to hunt for protective gear, he said their efforts underscore weaknesses in critical supply chains across Canada that need a fix. 

In a written response, Eagle Ridge emergency doctor and hospital board director Mike Mostrenko welcomed Karelse's donation and acknowledged the high demand for masks.

"The need for this critical piece of protective equipment is unprecedented at this time," Mostrenko said. "I know that this gift will make an important impact on the safety of our health care team over the weeks and months to come."

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the global demand for medical masks was "unprecedented" and promised Canada was doing all it could to work with China and to gear up its own manufacturing to alleviate supply issues.

Later Wednesday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Ottawa "likely did not have enough" personal protective gear in the national stockpile heading into the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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