P.E.I. Opposition raises concerns about Island's PPE stockpile

The Official Opposition raised concerns in the P.E.I. Legislature Friday over the province’s supply of personal protective equipment — in particular, the supply for dentists and other private businesses and health-care providers.

Dentists who previously donated their PPE now find themselves short

According to P.E.I.'s Official Opposition, some dentists in the province are still limited in what procedures they can perform because of a lack of personal protective equipment. (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

The Official Opposition raised concerns in the P.E.I. Legislature Friday over the province's supply of personal protective equipment — in particular, the supply for dentists and other private businesses and health-care providers.

Until June 1, dentists in the province had been sidelined during the COVID-19 pandemic except to perform emergency procedures.

On June 1, the range of possible procedures expanded, and Friday June 12 was the first day dentists were able to perform elective procedures.

All procedures now require dentists to use more PPE than they did before.

Dentists 'limiting scope of their practice'

On Friday, Green health critic Trish Altass told the legislature dentists "are facing challenges acquiring enough essential PPE to provide needed services to Islanders," and that some "are limiting the scope of their practices or preparing to do so as things continue to open up due to lack of PPE access."

She said many of these same dentists "also donated PPE at the start of this crisis and are now struggling to get all of the supplies they need."

Innovation PEI, government's economic development agency, is now working to help private businesses with procurement of necessary PPE, Health Minister James Aylward responded.

Green health critic Trish Altass is questioning the province's use of PPE and whether health-care staff who feel they should be using equipment are being denied. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. )

"We have instructed several staff there to work closely with the dental association but also with private industry as well," Aylward said. 

Aylward later told reporters his department has set up a new central distribution warehouse in Charlottetown for PPE for dentists and other private companies. He said provincial stockpiles are "comfortable right now" but that the province is increasing procurement efforts in anticipation of a second wave of COVID-19.

Health PEI's stockpiles of PPE as of May 26 were reported as follows, according to number submitted in the legislature:

  • N95 masks: 6- to 28-week supply, depending on the size of the mask.

  • Surgical masks: 12- to 14-week supply.

  • Face shields: 27-week supply.

  • Gowns: 2- to 7-week supply, with additional reusable gowns available.

  • Nitrile gloves: 11-week supply.

But Altass questioned whether those stockpiles would be adequate for a second wave, and whether Health PEI might be going too far in trying to ration supplies.

Efforts to conserve PPE?

During question period, she asked whether front-line health-care workers at the province's two main referral hospitals "have been instructed not to wear masks at all times to conserve PPE."

Aylward responded that Health PEI has "worked very closely with the front-line staff to ensure that they had the appropriate personal protective equipment when and where they needed it for the specific reason that was required."

James Aylward, minister of health and wellness, says the province is gearing up for a possible second wave of COVID-19. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Later, Altass explained to reporters that some front-line workers "have wanted to be on the safe side and make sure that they are having access to masks at all times, because there's not really certainty as every patient comes in, the comfort level of knowing there's going to be no further spread of COVID-19."

The head of the P.E.I. Nurses Union Mona O'Shea told CBC she was not aware of any recent concerns from union members about a lack of PPE.

But she said any health-care staff who feel they need protection must be provided with the necessary equipment.

PPE agreement with unions

On May 21 the nurses union and three other unions representing health-care workers signed a joint statement with Health PEI and the provincial government meant to address concerns over access to PPE.

That statement lays out the requirement for a point-of-care risk assessment to be conducted for each interaction between a health-care worker and a patient.

According to the statement, "if a health-care worker determines on reasonable grounds that specific PPE is required … they shall have access to the appropriate PPE … and this will not be unreasonably denied by their employer."

The nurses union is instructing its members to contact the union if they are denied PPE.

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