Is there enough PPE for healthcare workers to be safe? Health critic says no

A Sudbury dentist says he's having a difficult time accessing personal protective equipment as he starts to plan to fully reopen his office.

New healthcare appointments will require lots of protective equipment that is not readily available

PPE equipment like N95 masks are in high demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

A Sudbury dentist says he's having a difficult time accessing personal protective equipment as he starts to plan to fully reopen his office.

Currently in Ontario, there has been no date announced as to when dentists can fully reopen. On March 16, the regulatory body for dentists in Ontario recommended dentists stop providing all non-essential services. Since then, the only services being offered have been for emergencies.

Dr. Roch St. Aubin with the Sudbury Dental Group says COVID-19 has changed how things work in his sector.

"We are in close, close proximity to our patients and our staff," he said. "That needs to be limited as much as possible."

All procedures will require some kind of personal protective equipment due to the dentist and patient having to be so close to one another, St. Aubin said.

He says some minor procedures, such as a checkup, require staff to wear surgical masks and gloves. But he says complex procedures, including those involving a drill means higher protection, including a N95 mask, gloves, a face shield and gowns.

That equipment would be needed for the dentist and the assistant. St. Aubin says getting it is difficult because it's in high demand.

Dr. Roch St Aubin is with the Sudbury Dental Group. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

"Getting that stuff into the office will be the limiting factor," he said.

"I was just on the phone with a supplier and he was telling me three to four months for this particular type of mask that I'm seeking out."

Local solution needed

It's a story that's familiar to Ontario's NDP health critic and Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas.

She says she's been receiving calls from healthcare workers, including occupational therapists, physiotherapists, chiropodists and PSWs facing the same problem involving equipment. 

Gélinas says most of those workers used to only need N95 masks rarely, but will now need them sometimes daily to protect themselves and their clients.

She says the province should take action to address the issue.

"I would like that every area has a central distribution system," she said. "The government keeps saying we have lots of supply, but the people don't know how to have access to that supply."

Locally, Gélinas says a plastic surgeon she contacted was willing to help frontline workers who can't get equipment. But she says that's not the answer.

"I'm a politician, I'm not a supply chain," she said. "The last thing I want is to become the supply chain for community based health providers. I don't need that at all. I want the government to take that on."

France Gélinas, the NDP's health critic and MPP for Nickel Belt. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The province has stated it has enough equipment for healthcare workers. Gélinas says she's been told to tell those who need equipment to contact the province directly.

"I'm trying to connect them but it's not reasonable to ask," she said.

"We have 22,000 physicians who work in the community. Are they all going to phone the minister of health or the premier's office to get PPE? This is not a solution. We need something that is local."


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