Health-care workers, AHS clarify protective equipment needed for COVID-19

Alberta Health Services and unions for health-care workers have released a joint statement to clarify standards for protective equipment after nurses in Edmonton refused to test for COVID-19 without N95 masks.

Health-care workers coming within two metres of a suspected, presumed or confirmed COVID-19 patient should have access to N95 respirators, says the statement backed by unions for frontline workers as well as Covenant Health.

The statement issued Friday expresses confidence in health-care workers’ roles to conduct clinical risk assessments to determine what protective equipment they need during patient interactions.

“As partners in the response to COVID-19, we trust our front-line health care teams to make appropriate and clinically sound decisions,” said the statement from the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

The agreement comes a week after CBC News revealed 30 Edmonton nurses had refused to swab for COVID-19 without the tighter-fitting N95 masks. 

AHS said looser-fitting surgical masks provided adequate protection but the UNA argued that the science on aerosol transmission is inconclusive. The UNA said nurses who requested an N95 mask, based on a clinical assessment, should be given one without question.

“We agree that a risk assessment must be conducted for every patient interaction to ensure front-line health-care workers have the specific PPE they need,” the agreement said.

The statement also said appropriate personal protective equipment “will not be unreasonably denied by their employer, or they shall be deployed to another area.”

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