Saskatchewan

'Stop being secretive': Health care workers demand transparency from Sask. government

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is refusing to provide details about its supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital beds and ICU beds. The province also declined to explain what its COVID-19 modelling shows about the possible progression of the virus throughout Saskatchewan.

Nurses say SHA is 'rationing' personal protective equipment like masks during pandemic

A healthcare worker issues a swab at a drive-thru COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is refusing to provide details about its supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital beds and ICU beds. 

The province also declined to share what its COVID-19 modelling shows about the possible progression of the virus throughout Saskatchewan when asked by CBC earlier this week. 

Shortly after CBC published this story, Premier Scott Moe told reporters at the daily briefing that he has asked the SHA to provide an update on Saskatchewan-specific modelling to the public and the media early next week.

Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN), said her union has also been unable to get crucial information from SHA.

"Stop being secretive. Share what's going on with the people that you're expecting to do the work," she said. 

Other provinces, like Alberta and B.C., have provided the public with at least some detailed information. B.C.'s health minister and chief medical officer provided a detailed, hour-long briefing on what the province's various models show. 

In response to questions about SHA's modelling, an official wrote "we continue to refine and update the conceptual modelling," and, "we do not yet have modelling data available that is specific to the Saskatchewan context." 

When you hide information or you're not as forthcoming with it, people tend to get suspicious.- Barbara Cape, Service Employees International Union West

Barbara Cape, president of the Service Employees International Union West, which represents thousands of health care workers in the province, asked why Saskatchewan isn't following B.C.'s lead.    

"Not sharing as much information as possible, I think it's disrespectful to the population," Cape said. "I also think when you hide information or you're not as forthcoming with it, people tend to get suspicious and they don't trust you." 

CBC asked the SHA to provide details about its current supply of masks, gowns, test collection kits, swabs, ICU beds, hospital beds and ventilators. 

The SHA did provide details on its ventilator supply. It said it has 332 invasive ventilators, 118 non-invasive ventilators and it has ordered an additional 1,383 ventilators. 

It failed to answer any of the other questions and didn't explain why. 

Barbara Cape, the president of SEIU-West, says the government is being disrespectful of the public when it withholds information about the COVID-19 outbreak and how it's being handled. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

'A lack of transparency'

Zambory said she's frustrated with, "a lack of talking about what's actually happening with the number of PPEs."

"We have no sense really of what the supply is."

In addition, Zambory said, the province isn't informing her members about the province's operational plan. 

She said she and other union leaders were promised a free flow of information when they met with provincial officials about the impending epidemic in early February. 

"There was going to be transparency all through this and there would be no secrets," said Zambory. "They used those exact words. There would be no secrets. And that has been quite the opposite." 

She said the lack of information is making nurses anxious. 

Tracy Zambory, the president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, says the government is being secretive about its COVID-19 supplies and its operation plans for handling the outbreak. (Saskatchewan Union of Nurses)

'PPEs are being rationed' says SUN

During a COVID-19 briefing from the province Wednesday, a reporter asked whether the SHA was rationing PPE. 

"The answer to that is no we're not," said Dr. Susan Shaw, the SHA's chief medical officer. "We're taking a lot of steps to understand what is the best use of our personal protective equipment, where is it appropriately stocked, and how do we ensure that we continue to have the right amount of equipment to ensure our staff are safe." 

Zambory said nurses around the province disagree with Shaw's claim. 

"PPE's are being rationed," she told CBC.  "I just got off an almost two- hour call with my board of directors, who are from all corners of the province. There's some ERs where they can't use more than two surgical masks per shift when dealing with COVID patients. So I would call that rationing." 

She said the consequences could be severe. 

"If a mask is used for too long it can become compromised. If a mask becomes compromised ... it becomes quite possible for the virus to enter into the nose and mouth of the person who is caring for the COVID positive patient," said Zambory. 

Preserving PPE is everyone's job: SHA

The SHA provided some information about how it is managing the PPE supply in an email sent to health care workers around the province March 31. 

"We are updating our forecasted supply needs frequently within the changing parameters of this pandemic from both a modelling perspective and with evolving international and national infection prevention guidelines and research," the email said.

The email also said the SHA had ordered $4.1-million of supplies, which it doesn't expect to receive in whole. 

We are estimating our supplies based on how long we think this will occur and on assumptions that staff and physicians are following the guidelines for PPE.- Saskatchewan Health Authority email

"We know that globally, suppliers have adopted an equitable distribution strategy which means not all orders will be filled as requested. This is a reality every health-care system around the world is facing – and the SHA is no exception," says the email. 

The authority told CBC it is, "actively seeking additional supplies working with the Government of Saskatchewan, such as donations of appropriate equipment, 3D printing of equipment and any other viable measure." 

It said part of the responsibility for that rests on health care workers. 

"We each need to be conscious of how we are using our PPE and supplies," the email says. "We are estimating our supplies based on how long we think this will occur and on assumptions that staff and physicians are following the guidelines for PPE."

Zambory said nurses want to do their part, but it would be easier to do if the province was more transparent. 

She said she thinks the province knows it has failed to properly prepare for this pandemic. She said there will be time to debrief and figure out what went wrong after the pandemic is over, but that now is the time for everyone to work together with their eyes wide open. 

"We're in it. We're up to our eyeballs in it. So how about we just put away our pride or whatever it is, this barrier, let's just get rid of it because it's causing nothing but problems. It's unnecessary."

About the Author

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo has been a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan since 2001. His work as an investigative journalist and documentary producer has earned numerous national and regional awards.

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