Saskatoon

Sask. Health Authority CEO says he knows 'for a fact' staff involved in stealing masks, gloves from hospitals

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said Friday he knows "for a fact" workers have been involved in thefts of surgical masks and other protective equipment from hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that some some items could also have been taken by patients and physicians.

CEO says patients, physicians could also be stealing personal-protective equipment during COVID-19 pandemic

People in Saskatchewan's health care field have heard reports of N95 respirator masks going missing. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said Friday he knows "for a fact" workers have been involved in thefts of surgical masks and other protective equipment from hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It could be patients, it could be physicians, it could be anybody who comes into our facilities … we [had] open carts and open cupboards with this type of equipment in it — we don't have that any longer and it's locked down," said health authority CEO Scott Livingstone. 

"But yeah, I am saying that people who work for the SHA have removed [personal protective equipment] from our facilities." 

Masks, gowns and gloves are among the items whose stocks have been depleted, Livingstone said.

No staff have been disciplined as a result of the alleged thefts, he said. 

Members of the Service Employees' International Union (SEIU) West, which represents about 11,000 health-care professionals in the province, received a memo this week from the Saskatchewan Health Authority regarding stolen supplies.

"The vast majority of the people that work for SHA are coming to work each and every day to care for our patients and care about the safety of those they work with and themselves," Livingstone said Friday.

"We do know that [personal protective equipment] has disappeared from the SHA through our employees and other people who work in our facilities, and for those folks the memo was very clear ... if that PPE isn't available when people need it to properly care for COVID-19 patients, they're putting people's lives at risk and that's why that memo was sent out."

'As inconceivable as it is, we have confirmed there are public, staff, physicians and/or volunteers removing [protective] supplies from SHA facilities for personal use/gain,' read a memo to staff from Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Union president Barbara Cape said she wasn't pleased with the memo's tone and lack of detail, but that she's more concerned that protective equipment is going missing.

"If those supplies go missing, it is my members who are without supplies, who need them the most," said Cape.

The memo did not specify where the thefts happened or who specifically was responsible, but said the authority was investigating.

"As inconceivable as it is, we have confirmed there are public, staff, physicians and/or volunteers removing these supplies from SHA facilities for personal use/gain," read Livingtone's memo.

"These actions could cost lives in future phases of COVID-19. These individuals have endangered their colleagues, themselves and our patients and families."

Meanwhile, a speech language pathologist at the Saskatchewan Health Authority is trying to organize donations of critical equipment like N95 respirator masks to help with any shortages.

Jennifer Cameron-Turley said the N95 masks seem to be in short supply and was told staff have now started locking them up after they began to disappear.

As someone who regularly works near people's mouths, Cameron-Turley said it's very important that everyone has the correct gear to stay safe.

"If you don't have the proper equipment, you're putting yourself at risk or you're putting the patient at risk which is a terrible position to be in," said Cameron-Turley.

Cape said there was a general shortage of protective equipment across the entire health care system, including extended care homes.

"They're being sort of rationed out in home care, in long-term care," she said.

"We're getting ready for the surge. At what point do we start behaving in a way that shows that we are taking this seriously?"

On Tuesday, the health authority said it would accept donations of unopened, sealed boxes of non-latex gloves, disposable gowns and masks.

It asked that donations not be made directly to health facilities, but at drop-off points, which would be announced in the next few days.

Equipment issues

In an emailed response, the authority is trying to get as much personal protective equipment as possible.

The SHA has placed a $4.1 million order for masks and other equipment, but said it had to have contingency plans in place due to extremely high global demand.

Other than donations, it's also asking for 3D printing of medical equipment "and any other viable measure."

The authority also stressed the proper use of medical equipment, including using N95 respirators only during certain procedures.

Donations of cloth masks and gowns would not be accepted.

Two weeks ago, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses spoke out about a general shortage of N95 respirators, which are believed to do a better job of blocking the COVID-19 virus than other masks.

Full text of CEO Scott Livingstone's memo:

All Saskatchewan Health Authority staff, physicians and volunteers,

As the entire SHA works together to provide leadership and stewardship across all portfolios to contain, delay and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical we take the actions necessary to save lives.

The vast majority of health care providers are coming together to do just that. However, I regret to inform you of significant issues facing our efforts to protect ourselves, our patients and our families.

Over the past two weeks, there has been a significant increase in the ordering of critical COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies (masks, gowns, shields etc.), unrelated to the current clinical demand for these supplies and their appropriate use.

As inconceivable as it is, we have confirmed there are public, staff, physicians and/or volunteers removing these supplies from SHA facilities for personal use/gain. These actions could cost lives in future phases of COVID-19. These individuals have endangered their colleagues, themselves and our patients and families.

The ability of the SHA to protect our teams and the citizens of this province is dependent on having the right supplies at the right place at the right time. Misuse or theft of supplies by anyone endangers lives.

The ongoing central monitoring and triaging of all supply requests will continue and we will be investigating these losses to identify the specific areas and individuals involved.

Despite these unfortunate incidents, we know the vast majority of our teams are putting our values into action and making sacrifices to serve Saskatchewan people during this challenging time. Please accept my sincerest gratitude for your efforts.

Sincerely,

Scott Livingstone

CEO, Saskatchewan Health Authority

About the Author

David Shield is a web writer for CBC Saskatoon.

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