Kitchener-Waterloo

More than 50 nurses exposed to COVID-19 patient, union says

The Ontario Nurses' Association says more than 50 nurses were exposed to a patient at St. Mary's General Hospital in Kitchener before he was tested for COVID-19. The hospital's CEO says people were "at potential risk," and six people who showed symptoms have been tested.

Nurses' union alleges St. Mary's General Hospital 'strongly discourages' nurses to wear masks

St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener says 50 staff members, including nurses, were exposed to a patient who later tested positive for COVID-19. (Contributed by: St. Mary's General Hospital)

The union representing nurses and officials at St. Mary's General Hospital in Kitchener say dozens of nurses were exposed to a patient who had COVID-19 before he was tested for it.

The Ontario Nurses' Association issued a release Saturday saying more than 50 nurses were exposed to a patient, a man in his 70s who was already in the hospital for another health condition, before he was tested for the coronavirus.

In a statement Sunday morning, St. Mary's president Lee Fairclough said more than 50 staff members, including nurses, were "at potential risk."

"St. Mary's has referred six staff who were symptomatic to [Region of Waterloo] Public Health for fast tracked testing. We have not tested those who are asymptomatic because it is not believed that it is effective, and as such, not reflected in any provincial guidance," Fairclough's statement said.

ONA president Vicki McKenna said the problem was made worse because she says "nurses were unable to access N95 respirators when they performed the procedures, as their employer strongly discourages nurses wearing them."

McKenna says she's calling on St. Mary's to "ensure that screening protocols are followed and proper protective equipment is worn. We just cannot afford to lose nurses now."

Fairclough said St. Mary's has "strong infection prevention and control policies that align with provincial standards and the provincial public health directive."

Officials with the Ministry of Labour had visited the hospital in March 12 to check to make sure it was prepared for COVID-19.

Labour ministry officials also called the hospital on Friday night after the nurses' union made a complaint, Fairclough said.

She said hospital officials are taking the matter seriously.

"It is an understandable time of worry for all involved, particularly health care workers, and our approach has been to communicate, support their training as needed, and ensure we've got the right policies and practices in place for their safety," Fairclough said.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said more than 50 workers were exposed to the patient. It should have read that more than 50 staff members "were at potential risk."
    Mar 22, 2020 7:38 PM ET

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