Edmonton

Doctors, medical suppliers urge public not to hoard or steal protective gear

Emergency room staff are keeping a closer eye on their supplies, and a medical equipment company has locked its doors to the public as the health-care sector deals with a shortage of masks, disinfectant gel and other protective equipment. 

'I don't think you need 40 bottles of hand sanitizer in one household,' distributor says

A worker at Canada Medical stacks shelves at the Edmonton-based distributor's warehouse. The company warns demand for personal protection equipment is at unprecedented highs. (Peter Evans/CBC )

Emergency room staff are keeping a closer eye on their supplies, and a medical equipment company has locked its doors to the public as the health-care sector deals with a shortage of masks, disinfectant gel and other protective equipment. 

The search for supplies is so widespread because of the coronavirus pandemic, Edmonton-based Canada Medical says it's been fielding hundreds of calls an hour, at times from other countries. 

"We had a lot of people walking in off the street," said account manager Shawna Briscoe, "so we had to lock our doors."

The company sells to medical clinics in Canada, and is having a hard time meeting demand. Many shelves at its warehouse are bare. Cases that would often contain multiple boxes of face masks, now only have a single box.

"[Clients are] understanding that we're having to ration certain supplies," said Briscoe. "Of course, their questions are: when can we get supplies en masse? And we're doing everything we can." 

Company president Carla Rodych wants the public to be rational about how much personal protection equipment they buy. (Raffy Boudjikanian/CBC )

"All the clinics are really burning through all their flu [season] supplies," Briscoe said. "Just regular patients [in] … for a foot issue are now asking for masks." 

Company president Carla Rodych says production is ramping up to meet demand. But she wants the public to be rational about how much personal protection equipment (PPE) they buy, because retail stores and companies like hers rely on the same manufacturers. 

"I don't think you need 40 bottles of hand sanitizer in one household," she said.

Across town, some emergency rooms are taking precautions after the same sort of personal equipment went missing.

"We're having to sort of keep [PPE] closer to working spaces and the nursing work desks, in sort of, more watched areas," said Dr. Josh Fanaeian, an emergency physician at the city's Royal Alexandra and Strathcona County hospitals.

He said it's unclear who walked away with the material.

"We're not even sure ... whether it's patients, families or even workers doing that," he said.

Though no hospitals have reported major shortages, they are preparing for the worst.

Emergency room physician Josh Fanaeian says the hospitals where he works are keeping a close eye on their medical supplies. (Raffy Boudjikanian/CBC )

"Canada sits on the precipice of a potential public health disaster," the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians warned this week, in part because of the risk frontline health-care workers would face without enough "surgical masks, gowns and gloves."

"Immediate measures must be instituted to ensure that personal protective equipment remain readily available," the group said in a statement. 

Canada's chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, also said she's aware of potential shortages. 

"The reality is that there are global challenges," getting some equipment, she said at her Wednesday news conference. 

"We can currently expect to meet those needs about at least seventy five per cent of the requested amount but we're pulling out all stops," Tam said.

No hospitals are reporting major shortages of supplies yet, but this week the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians urged all jurisdictions to ensure frontline health-care workers have the gear they need. (Peter Evans/CBC)

 

About the Author

Raffy Boudjikanian is a national reporter with CBC in Edmonton. He has also worked in Calgary and Montreal for the public broadcaster.

With files by Carly Thomas