Hamilton hospitals take stock of masks and other PPE; weigh who gets them if supplies run low

We don't know how many masks are actually left, but hospitals say they are trying to find the balance between protecting staff and not using unnecessary personal protective equipment.

Hospital networks must balance protecting staff versus protecting supply of protective gear

Hamilton hospitals say they have enough masks and PPE for now, but want more before a surge of COVID-19 patients arrive. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Hamilton hospitals have analyzed every frontline healthcare job to determine the level of danger each one faces to figure out who gets a mask and who doesn't as they wait for an incoming COVID-19 surge.

Rob MacIsaac, Hamilton Health Sciences  president and CEO, said eventually everyone will get one, but for now, as personal protective equipment run low for some, hospital networks are having to choose who gets more protection and who will have to wait.

"We continue to be very concerned about the supply chain for PPE, which is why we're doing all we can to conserve the supplies we have. At the moment, our inventories are not where we'd like them to be," he told the media on Tuesday.

"In terms of where we are today, we think we're being responsible."

PPE includes gloves, scrubs, shoe covers, visors, surgical masks and N95 masks — the latter of which are the hardest to find and the most valuable right now.

Government hungry for more face masks

The federal and provincial governments are looking for any N95 masks they can find for medical staff as shortages persist.

Without these masks, healthcare workers will have to treat COVID-19 infected patients with less protection — and could become infected themselves.

Premier Doug Ford announced that the first made-in-Ontario face masks are ready on Tuesday, one day after he warned that the province would run out of personal protective equipment in one week.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford loads ASTM Level 3 masks made by The Woodbridge Group in Woodbridge, Ont. on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Local businesses in Hamilton and the surrounding area have been making masks, though some haven't been certified. Businesses that are still running have also been buying the masks for themselves.

Social media has been host to healthcare workers appealing to the public for donations.

Melissa Farrell, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton president, said it has adequate masks right now, but is looking at getting more and preserving what it still has, which includes locking down some PPE.

But it has to "make sure it's not restricting access and ensuring people have access," she said.

Kyle Saikaley, a local emergency medicine resident, told CBC News ever since his urgent plea to the public to donate unused personal protective equipment to Hamilton hospitals, his team has received more than 13,000 items such as masks, gloves, surgical gowns, face shields and shoe covers. (Submitted by Kyle Saikaley)

St Joe's and HHS have instructed staff members to conserve PPE by using longer than is normally recommended and HHS has said it has developed protocols for re-use of some PPE should it become necessary.

Some of the other measures hospitals have taken include restricting elective surgeries and visitors and introducing more virtual care options to spare workers from face-to-face contact with patients.

"If we had normal services running, our use of PPE would be much greater," Winnie Doyle, St. Joseph's executive vice president of clinical operations and chief nursing executive, said.

But some frontline healthcare workers can't avoid close contact, like those in long-term care homes.

Outbreaks are happening in a number of nursing homes in Hamilton and the surrounding area, with three in Hamilton, one in Brant and one in Haldimand-Norfolk.

Nursing homes hit hard

Anson Place Care Centre in Hagersville reported eight resident deaths in its home, while more than 60 staff and residents have been infected by COVID-19.

"The people who are working there are working extra hours and doing an extraordinary job trying to keep the institution functioning," said Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, medical officer of health.

In Hamilton, Heritage Green Nursing Home has seen three deaths.

Despite the home following provincial guidelines, the outbreak prompted at least 20 workers, including personal support and nursing staff, to complain to their local union representative about the way the home is managing PPE.

The union's provincial president told CBC News said even though it appeard the recommended measures were being taken for use of PPE, the union feels those measures are not enough and it is pushing the government for improved protections for long-term care workers.

It's not clear what kind of supply of PPE long term care and retirement homes in the region have.

A discarded shoe cover sits outside of Heritage Green Nursing Home in Stoney Creek, the site of a COVID-19 outbreak. Staff inside want more PPE and complained to their local union representative. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)