TORONTO — More than 2400 hospital staff took part Saturday in an urgent Ontario-wide conference call sponsored by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) focused on the impact of COVID-19 on them as they care for the sick.
Throughout the information-based call, several key questions were posed to the hospital workers. When asked if they believed that the Ontario government has taken all the necessary steps to protect their safety and that of the people they care for at work, only 30 per cent said yes. Asked if they had the personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them and the people they care for safe at work, 77 per cent answered, no.
“We need health care workers to be as protected as they can be from being infected from Coronavirus so that they can continue to care for the sick,” says OCHU president Michael Hurley. “The position of the Ontario government puts health care staff at risk because it downplays the possibility that the virus is airborne. We lived this same nightmare during SARS, when the authorities told us that virus was not airborne and were proved wrong, but only after many Ontario health care staff had fallen sick and a number had died. We won’t repeat that experience if we can help it.”
China’s rate of infection of health care staff is just over 3 per cent. There, health care staff wore full-body protective gear, including goggles, complete head coverings, N95 particle-filtering masks, and hazmat-style suits. In Italy, which follows a protocol like Ontario’s, the infection rate among health care staff is over 8 per cent.
81 per cent of the 2,400 hospital staff on the call, said they are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
OCHU is the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) which in Ontario represents about 45,000 hospital nurses, cleaners, dietary, trades workers, administrative and ward clerks. An alliance of unions (including OCHU/CUPE) representing 250,000 health care staff in the province, recently urged the provincial government not to dilute guidelines on PPE for health care on the basis that there is a supply shortage.
“Staff who are screening or coming into proximity of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, should be given full protective equipment, including N95 masks. Now, as JAMA, the Lancet and other respected medical journals and voices call for health care staff to treat this virus as if it could be airborne, we are asking for the ability to meet that standard and to protect ourselves, so that we can continue to provide care for the people of Ontario,” says Hurley.