Nurses’ union says health employers are putting health care workers’ safety at risk

PPE supply levels remain dangerously low around BC

THE BC Nurses’ Union says it is seriously concerned that provincial health employers may be failing to effectively protect health-care workers from COVID-19 transmission and infection, and are instead resorting to questionable safety measures like the use of re-processed and expired personal protective equipment (PPE).

Since March 20, BCNU has received more than 1,700 complaints from nurses across the province who are increasingly concerned that health employers are unable to provide them with adequate PPE such as gowns, gloves, face shields and N95 respirator masks – equipment that is critical to protecting them and their patients as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

As the province moves in and out of elevated stages of PPE supply risk, BCNU President Christine Sorensen said on Monday she is extremely troubled to hear reports of employers asking nurses to take questionable measures to preserve PPE at the risk of their safety.

“Nurses are getting only one mask per shift. Others have been told to leave their used mask on a piece of paper towel when they go on a break,” she said.

Sorensen said these first-hand accounts have led BCNU to question what state the pandemic response measures or other disease transmission controls were in before this public health crisis began, and how health employers plan on navigating the challenges that will continue to arise as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on.

“Respirators, masks and other PPE are meant to be the last line of defense for care providers, after all other control measures are in place,” explained Sorensen. “The fact that some hospital emergency rooms still have triage desks without Plexi-glass barriers, like the ones now present in grocery stores and food processing plants, is quite simply beyond me.”

BCNU’s call to protect nurses comes as workers across North America recognize Safety and Health Week 2020, an annual event that promotes the importance of workplace injury and illness prevention. Sorensen said that throughout the week nurses are being reminded of their occupational health and safety rights – and that delivering safe patient care means working in a safe and healthy environment.