Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia puts out call for help with medical supplies, services

The Nova Scotia government has put out a major tender looking for medical supplies and services as it waits for a bulk order from Ottawa.

Tender issued as province gets help from private industry, awaits order from Ottawa

The Nova Scotia government is awaiting delivery of more medical supplies, such as N95 face masks, gloves and ventilators. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

As governments everywhere seek more medical supplies to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and stress it's placing on health-care systems, Nova Scotia has turned to the general public for help.

On Friday, the provincial government issued what amounts to a wide open tender for products, services and ideas.

Requested products include bottles of hand sanitizer, disposable N95 masks, disposable surgical masks, eye protection, gowns, hospital beds, nitrile gloves, vinyl gloves, ventilators and other prevention products.

Services requested include guard/security services, nursing services, food services, laundry services, accommodation maintenance services, personal services, IT support services and other services.

The tender says the government is also asking to hear from businesses that can help with virtual mental health services, supply chain resiliency monitoring, financial planning and advising for small businesses "that can be delivered online at low cost" and any other ideas, products or services that could help the public.

Companies in the province have also started stepping up to answer the call.

On a small scale, there are distilleries around the province who have switched from making liquor to making hand sanitizer. A similar switch has happened with the ORB Factory, parent company of ORB Toys, but on a much larger scale.

Company president Michael Bianco said their China-based factories that were making compounds for toys have been switched over to produce a line of hand sanitizers and cleaning products that were previously only distributed through western Europe and a few North American locations. Production has already started and Bianco said things would quickly ramp up to meet supply needs across Canada and the United States.

"We're starting off with probably a production of 500-700,000 units a week and that will go to north of a million within two weeks," he said.

Bianco said the decision was made last week to make the switch to address an obvious need, as well as preserve jobs within the company, which includes about 60 in Nova Scotia.

One of the many items the Nova Scotia government is trying to procure is hand sanitizer. (Koen Van Weel/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

"We want to make product that the world needs," he said.

"This is what we're capable of doing, it's what we excel at and so we had the opportunity to be one of the few organizations that could switch over this quickly and fill a need."

Bulk supplies order placed with Ottawa

Help in Nova Scotia is also likely to come from the construction industry.

Duncan Williams, president and CEO of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, said they've been told the provincial government may ask them for help.

Williams said a formal effort is being co-ordinated to get a sense of what supplies companies might have that they can pass along. Lots of construction work requires personal protective equipment and Williams said that can include dust masks, eye protection, gloves and equipment to deal with hazardous materials, all of which is dictated by stringent regulations.

There is currently a worldwide shortage of face masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images)

"There is number of different programs that we would have to follow to maintain safety for our people and the public," he said.

All of this is above and beyond an ask from the provincial government to Ottawa.

Nova Scotia, like other provinces, has placed a bulk order for medical supplies to the federal government.

That order includes 140 ventilators, as well as gloves, gowns, scrubs and sanitizer "in large quantities," said a government spokesperson. The spokesperson deferred to the federal government for information about the status of the order.

Ottawa promising 'millions more items'

On Thursday, during his daily briefing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said federal stockpiles have been sufficient to meet the needs of provinces up to this point and "in the coming days, we will be receiving millions more items that are necessary right across the country."

That's happening just as companies across Canada are preparing to do manufacturing and production here at home to provide supplies for this country and for "friends and allies around the world who need it," said Trudeau.

The Globe and Mail reported this week that the Ontario Health Department "recently procured 12 million more sets of gloves, one million more N95 respirators, and nearly six million more surgical masks, on top of the extra supplies promised by Ottawa."

On Thursday, IWK Health Centre CEO Dr. Krista Jangaard said it's important for any community effort to be co-ordinated when it comes to supplies and services, but it's "heartwarming" to see the offers they've received so far.

"We have had not only people who want to make new things, but we also have had a number of our other companies [offer help]," she told a public briefing.

"Some of our education systems, some of the universities [have reached] out and say, 'Hey, we do research, we have some of these things, are they helpful to you?'"