By Robert Frank
Quebec’s long-term care facilities don’t have the staff, resources or personal protective equipment that they need to cope with the current coronavirus pandemic, cautioned Alexandre Magdzinski.
“They were barely able to complete their tasks before,” the Quebec Nurses Association vice-president said in a telephone interview.
A Quebec government directive to send elderly coronavirus patients back to their underequipped eldercare centres could create a domino effect that would compound the problem and undermine the entire province’s emergency health care capacity, he suggested.
“A provincial mandate forced those of us on the front lines in the emergency room to return stable patients to their residences,” he explained. “It’s just a disaster.”
“It will be devastating for the health care system,” Magdzinski warned. “Most of Quebec’s approximately 900 intensive care beds were already full before the COVID-19 crisis. There’s not much room to play with. Just one residence could blow up the system.”
In a news conference, April 7, Quebec Premier François Legault stated that some hospital personnel would be redeployed to work directly in seniors residences and long-term care facilities.
“It’s a top priority for our government to protect the people who are most at-risk from this virus, that’s to say those who are 70+,” he told reporters.
Family’s right-to-know, bring loved-ones home
Lack of transparency poses another problem, Magdzinski added.
“Family members are left in the dark. The public has a right to make an informed decision as to whether to bring grandpa, grandma, mom and dad back home. If the government says that they’re safe, we assume that they’re safe,” he said. “According to the nurses whom I have spoken to, that is anything but the case.”
“Across the province, especially in eldercare centres where outbreaks are now occurring, staff is not properly equipped. In addition, a lot of nurses who work for agencies visit multiple facilities in the same week. That’s crazy, given that we’ve stopped visitors from entering for their protection. Now, we’re suffering the consequences of that. These cases wouldn’t have had to happen if we had had more measures in place to protect them.”
Even well-equipped facilities that the Quebec government designated as COVID-19 treatment centres are starting to face shortages of life-saving personal protective equipment.
“We have been reusing face shields,” Magdzinski reported. “We were trained to throw them out after every time we go into a room. Now it’s after every day. We have already started to keep using the same mask all day. They can be sterilized in an autoclave. That reduces the effectiveness every time that you do, but it’s either that or run out of masks. That is at the Jewish General Hospital, where I work, which is fairly well equipped. I know a lot of health care establishments that don’t have enough equipment—particularly long-term care facilities.”
On Feb. 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would send its strategic stockpile of 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment to China. Then, last month, a reciprocal shipment from China never materialized, after it was diverted to other countries. Since then, President Donald Trump pressured 3M, a manufacturer of N95 protective masks, not to deliver millions of masks slated for delivery to Canada, leaving the country with insufficient quantities to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
“We’re not happy with the fact that we’re running out of equipment,” Magdzinski underscored. “A lot of issues could have been mitigated had they planned ahead. It doesn’t make sense that we’re into week two and have already run into a materiel shortage.”
“We don’t send soldiers to war without vests or helmets,” he concluded. “Personal protective equipment is basically our shields and helmets to protect ourselves, and our patients.”