Jewish General Hospital donating protective gear to others in health network

"It's difficult when a hospital calls you and says 'we are completely out of equipment in our hospital,' for this and that," says the hospital's senior administrator Francine Dupuis.

Hospital stocked up early in pandemic, ready to share but not to reuse disinfected masks

A nurse slips on protective gloves at a drive-through clinic at Ste-Justine hospital in Montreal. The Quebec government has expressed concerns for the diminishing supplies of personal protective equipment. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Montreal's Jewish General Hospital has sent some of its personal protective gear to the McGill University Health Centre, as well as to some regional health boards — answering a call from the government for well-stocked hospitals to share their inventory.

"It's difficult when a hospital calls you and says 'we are completely out of equipment in our hospital,' for this and that. We share whatever we have, and we pray the government will be sending us more," said Francine Dupuis, associate CEO of the CIUSSS West-Central, the local health agency that oversees the Jewish General Hospital.

This week, she said, a hospital called her and said it needed 30,000 pieces of protective equipment. Dupuis looked at their inventory and decided it could only spare 20,000.

"We try to give as much as we can while protecting ourselves," said Dupuis.

The regional health agency for the West Island confirmed Thursday it received a shipment of gowns.

Yesterday, the premier reiterated that the province has enough personal protective equipment for the next seven days.

But that is for the province as a whole, and there may be some hospitals who need to rely on their health-care partners for shipments to get them through the week.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Jewish General was the only designated centre for adult patients in the Montreal region. Because of that, Dupuis said, the hospital was extremely proactive early on, ordering a lot of equipment.

Dupuis said the hospital is carefully monitoring its levels and asking staff to be extremely conservative in what they use.

"You don't need an N95 mask for most patients," said Dupuis. "They are only needed for very, very acute patients."

As of Thursday, the Jewish General had 63 COVID-19 positive patients. Of those, 27 were in intensive care.

Concerns surrounding N95 masks

Earlier this week, Health Minister Danielle McCann said hospitals are being asked to disinfect and reuse the N95 masks, but so far, Dupuis said, her hospital's chief of prevention and control of infectious diseases opposes that idea.

"It's a complex system, and it's not necessarily safe. So we're not doing it here," said Dupuis.

However, the N95 masks are not being thrown away, stressed Dupuis. They are put aside.

If a safe solution is worked out, the equipment will be available to be disinfected.

Denyse Joseph, vice-president of the FIQ, Quebec's largest federation of nurses' unions, said it will not tell their members to disinfect and reuse N95 masks. (FIQ)

Denyse Joseph, vice-president of Quebec's largest federation of nurses (FIQ) said an N95 mask is only made for a set number of uses and hours per day.

"After that, it has to be thrown out because it's no longer protecting you," said Joseph.

"No way will we tell our members to start cleaning their N95 masks and reuse them."

Another concern for the FIQ is whether employees are getting the right size mask when they are asked to treat COVID-19 positive patients.

For the masks to work properly, they need to fit tightly, said Joseph. That requires a fit test, which is usually performed by an employee who specializes in doing the fitting. However, it may mean employees have to go through a few masks before they land on the perfectly sized one.

To avoid waste, Joseph said, some nurses are being asked to do a fit check on their own.

"So you're never 100 per cent sure you are protected," said Joseph.

The possibility of not having the proper safety equipment to do their jobs is a huge fear for nurses, who are scared of contaminating their family when they come home, she said.

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