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Nurses say PPEs an issue as Burnaby Hospital COVID-19 outbreak grows

The COVID-19 outbreak at Burnaby Hospital has been a deadly one and now nurses are speaking out about how it highlights the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Burnaby Hospital

The COVID-19 outbreak at Burnaby Hospital has been a deadly one and now nurses are speaking out about how it highlights the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Fraser Health says that at least 55 Burnaby Hospital patients have tested positive for COVID-19 and that there have also been five deaths since the outbreak started on Nov. 9. There are also 40 staff cases that are under investigation to determine if they are connected to the outbreak, said a Fraser Health news release.

The head of the BC Nurses’ Union says nurses do not have unfettered access to PPEs and this situation could have exacerbated the Burnaby Hospital outbreak.

“The outbreak at Burnaby Hospital underscores the BC Nurses’ Union repeated calls over the last nine months regarding personal protective equipment access and supply,” said Christine Sorensen, president of the BC Nurses’ Union, in an email to the NOW. “The safety of nurses and health-care workers must be a priority as we go through this second wave of the pandemic. Nurses must be able to use their professional judgment to determine the PPE they need to keep themselves safe. If a nurse decides an N-95 mask is needed, they should have access to that mask – however, it’s not always available to nurses around the province.

“Some nurses are still telling us they are being asked to take questionable measures to preserve PPE – such as being given a single mask for a 12-hour shift, or being told to use N95 masks in some care circumstances and not others. B.C. practice needs to align with new Public Health Agency of Canada federal guidelines regarding aerosol spread of COVID-19. When access is not provided, nurses’ risk of getting sick increases. If we have sick nurses, patient care suffers. The mental health of nurses is also at stake as outbreaks increase. BCNU believes more needs to be done to protect nurses and all health-care workers.”

Fraser Health says it ensures staff have the proper access to PPEs.

“Fraser Health is committed to providing all staff with the personal protective equipment they need to do their job safely and we follow provincial direction in doing so,” it said in a statement. “We have sufficient supply of personal protective equipment and are confident that we have what we need to respond to this public health emergency.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said on Wednesday that a fire Nov. 15 at Burnaby Hospital made the situation worse as patients had to be rushed out of the facility.

As a precaution, due to the outbreak the hospital is not accepting new admissions at this time, with the exception of the intensive care unit (ICU), maternity, and community palliative care. Patients who require hospital admissions in other areas are admitted to neighbouring hospitals.

“We expect to open to emergency admissions in the coming days,” said Fraser Health.

“We continue to monitor the outbreak closely and do everything we can to support patients and staff through this outbreak. Enhanced infection control measures have been implemented in each of these units and throughout the hospital. For instance, physical distancing measures are in place in the cafeteria to ensure staff are safely apart, our staff break rooms have limits on how many people can be there at one time, and people are encouraged to maintain physical distancing in elevators.”

All patients, staff, support staff and medical staff are being tested for COVID-19, said Fraser Health.