PPE and ventilators: Saving lives


As yesterday and the days before, essential supplies and equipment remain a central concern. Earlier this week we heard the federal government is mobilizing industry to fight COVID-19, increasing Canada’s ability to respond to the outbreak with necessary medical equipment and supplies, boosting capacity to manufacture items such as portable ventilators, surgical masks, and rapid testing kits. It is also investing $2 billion to support diagnostic testing and to purchase ventilators and PPE, including for bulk purchases with provinces and territories. Today the Ontario government announced a $50 million fund to help businesses manufacture essential medical supplies and equipment, including gowns, coveralls, masks, face shields, testing equipment and ventilators. The government has recently placed an order with O-Two Medical Technologies who, with the support of Ontario's manufacturing sector, will produce 10,000 ventilator units.  Our response to both the prime minister and the premier is: FANTASTIC!!!! Now, we need breakneck delivery timelines as -- without PPE and ventilators -- Canadians and healthcare workers’ lives are on the line. Months from now, no equipment or supplies will be of any help – there is not a single day to waste. The purchase of ventilators is not reflected in the critical care projections discussed by Ontario’s health officials today, why? 

RNAO has been at the forefront, pleading to governments to procure PPE and ventilators to protect workers and save lives. We are glad to now see a sense of urgency and we deeply hope that it is not too late. Employers and staff need timelines. For now, they are doing their best to find PPE and arm their workers to carry-on the fight. Yesterday, the Ontario Hospital Association added its voice to the plea for PPE with a statement regarding shortage of PPE. These calls for action – including those from RNAO and OMA and from RNAO, are now all more important given president Trump’s threats to prohibit 3M from exporting N95 masks to Canada.

Some family doctors in Ontario say their practices are under threat because of the ongoing shortage of masks and other protective equipment caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They don't have the PPE to keep things safe along the way, and staff are getting burned out, so they are practicing mostly telemedicine. Some are worried that more deaths could result from the sudden loss of primary care for patients than from the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

Given how vocal RNAO has been with health officials and in the media regarding shortages of PPE, we have started receiving calls from importers of PPE. Several of them say they have received either no answer or unhelpful answers from the Ontario government’s procurement arm. We have made a connection with a couple of desperate front line organizations that decided to purchase directly from an importer rather than continue to wait for supplies that do not arrive. We understand that the government normally prefers to deal with registered suppliers selling large stocks with certified products. But we are not in normal times. One supplier, who appeared to be honest and forthcoming, claimed they had sent a shipment of one million N95 respirators to the United States because they got no response to their offer. We are not advocating the use of uncertified and unregulated products, but we also do not advocate – in even stronger terms – not using PPE at all because the health provider has run out of it. If it is a matter of testing a product, such as a surgical mask, the government has access to testing facilities that can provide that service. One doctor reports printing their own face shield in a 3d printer. The message to the government is: we don’t care how you obtain the PPE, but it is unacceptable that health providers do not have what they need! This is not the time for normal procurement processes and timelines. Please do make it happen, somehow, now! 

While RNAO continues to call on federal and provincial governments to aggressively take measures to procure the required PPE, you can also donate PPE items. Please contact Heather McConnell <hmcconnell@rnao.ca>.