Black Press file photo.

Black Press file photo.

Abbotsford doctor, home-support worker warn about deficit of protective equipment

Masks, gowns, hand sanitizer, gloves, face shields, all in short supply

Abbotsford healthcare workers are warning about a lack of protective medical equipment needed to keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An emergency physician at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, Dr. Michael Yatscoff, described the hospital’s situation on March 25 in a social media post.

“This is unlike anything I have ever seen in my career, and we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now,” Yatscoff said. “In the coming weeks, and despite Fraser Health’s best efforts, we will need more personal protective equipment (PPE).”

The equipment most desperately needed are surgical and protective masks, fluid-proof gowns, gloves, hand sanitizer, face shields and goggles, according to Yatscoff.

“We need these now, and not when patient volumes are through the roof,” he said. “This is our hospital and many of the workers are our friends, family and neighbours.”

During the March 25 COVID-19 update, Dr. Bonnie Henry described the shortage of PPE in hospitals as the “wicked problem.” She said that healthcare workers are burning through “way more” equipment than was expected.

“It’s a reflection of how challenging it is for healthcare workers to feel very vulnerable, as we are, working in these situations,” Henry said. “Worrying about getting sick ourselves, worrying about passing it on to our families, our homes, but also being able to care for people effectively.”

Henry said that health authorities have been looking at grouping infected patients, so healthcare workers wouldn’t have to change their masks, ventilators and eye protection between each patient. She said they are also looking at increasing PPE stock piles by carefully cleaning and reusing certain types of equipment, and finding alternate medical supplies from other countries.

Supply gaps down the line

Physicians and nurses working in hospitals are not the only ones facing a deficit of PPE. Home-support workers, who provide care for people discharged from hospital and the elderly, have almost no protective gear, according to one Abbotsford worker.

The home-support worker, who wanted to remain anonymous because they’ve been told not to speak with media, said they have gone without hand sanitizer for two weeks, have no masks and no gowns.

“Everyone that we see has a lowered immune system… we go from client to client,” the employee said. “We want to be able to do our jobs, but do it safely for us – and the client – to not be at risk.

“Protect them, by protecting us… I hate to even say this, but can you imagine if we were infected and we went into a [patient’s] house?”

The employee said hundreds of local home-support workers only have two lines of defence against a potential infection: hand washing and a set of questions, screening patients for any symptoms.

“We contacted our supervisor [with our concerns], and we’re basically told that where we don’t need [PPE].”

How to help

Yatscoff says he has been trying to organize the community’s medical assets and find stocks of PPE not being used. He praises the local breweries, distilleries and wineries which have transformed their operations to produce hand sanitizer.

RELATED: Abbotsford’s New Wave Distilling assisting the COVID-19 battle

He says that some businesses, dental offices, veterinary clinics and industrial operations may have the spares needed to keep medical workers safe on the job.

“Please help us protect them… so we can continue to do our job saving lives.”

The Fraser Health Care Foundation is one of the vehicles Yatscoff has been using to find unused medical equipment. He says that PPE can also be donated to SafeCare BC.

RELATED: Isolated Abbotsford doctor issues desperate plea for the public to take drastic COVID-19 action

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