Home care workers worry about shortage of protective equipment during pandemic: union

Some home care workers are raising concerns that they don’t have enough protective equipment when they are entering clients’ homes to deliver care, says the union.

CUPE: ‘They provide an essential service to our most vulnerable population’

The union representing Manitoba home care workers says they're hearing concerns about the scarcity of personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and isolation gowns. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Some Manitoba home care workers are raising concerns that they don't have enough protective equipment when they are entering clients' homes to deliver care, according to their union.

Shannon McAteer, health care co-ordinator for the Canadian Union of Public Employees Manitoba, which represents about 6,500 home care workers, says she's heard a lot of concerns.

"They're a big group. And they provide an essential service to our most vulnerable population," McAteer said. 

She said some home care workers are reporting they don't have access to personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, gowns or foot covers.

On Tuesday morning staff reported there were no masks at the Goulet Street location in St. Boniface, even after it was reported to a supervisor last week that the supply at that location was running low, McAteer said.

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Also on Tuesday morning, home care workers at a Portage Avenue location in Winnipeg reported there were no gloves, hand sanitizers or masks available, McAteer said. 

She added that one worker from the Portage Avenue site reported "the employees were resorting to purchasing their own masks and gloves so that they are protected when they go into someone's home." 

"What we're finding is that on a daily basis we're getting complaints that it's not consistently and freely available," because supplies are running out, she said.

This is in contrast to what a provincial official said Tuesday when asked about the issue.

"As far as the personal protective equipment, I can assure you — because we check on this every single day — that the supplies are being delivered to the region," said Manitoba Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa.

Manitoba Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa says supplies of personal protective equipment are being delivered. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"I suspect in some areas, because there's geographic challenges in rural and northern (areas), that we're gonna have to talk about a better way to make sure we distribute it to the providers who are going out there," she said. "But it is available. 

"We have surgical masks, and gloves and gowns, and everything that they need. So if they're not getting it, they should be talking to their direct reports, their managers, making sure that there are arrangements to make sure that's a really fluid process," she said. 

McAteer said a CUPE home care worker might make as many as 40 client visits per day.

Sometimes they will have several clients in the same apartment building and may visit a client more than once a day, at different meal times, for example.

"They're very concerned about either contracting the virus, or if they come into contact with it, then putting someone else at risk … if they don't have the proper equipment," said McAteer. 

She said home care workers want to avoid being a conduit for the virus between clients' homes, and also avoid taking it home at the end of their work day.

CUPE represents home care workers in the Winnipeg health region, as well as the northern and southern regional health authorities.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union represents about 1,000 home care workers in Prairie Mountain Health region and Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority. 

MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said some of those workers have also reported not having protective equipment available.

Fears of inadvertently spreading virus: Gawronsky

"(Personal protective equipment) is just as important for home care as it is for paramedics, doctors, nurses, that are going out into communities or looking after any patients," said Gawronsky. 

"Each home care worker should be given the equipment to protect themselves and their clients." 

Gawronsky said some workers have also not been given direction on how to correctly screen home care clients for signs of illness before entering the home. 

"Their biggest fear is that they're going to inadvertently be spreading the virus through a vulnerable population unless proper screening and protection is put in place," she said. 

Gawronsky is also asking that scheduling be streamlined so each home care client is seen by the same worker, if possible, rather than multiple workers looking after a client.

Siragusa said information about screening procedures is available on the Shared Health website.

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