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Manitoba health-care workers to have more access to PPE after complaints from nurses union

Front-line health-care workers in Manitoba will have easier access to personal protective equipment, after the province loosened rules around the use of supplies, such as the coveted N95 masks. 

Now, all nurses will now have access to the N95 mask, if they so choose, Manitoba Shared Health Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa said at a news conference Tuesday.

The change comes after the Manitoba Nurses Union filed several grievances, arguing that the province’s guidelines on the use of protective equipment were putting nurses in danger. The issue was set to go to arbitration, according to the union.

“I think working in partnership with MNU, specifically, but all the unions … it’s good to have them as partners in this,” said Siragusa.

“I think it will be helpful for them to have more transparent information and see where we’re at with the supply chain, and we can make decisions together.”

In April, the province introduced a new framework for personal protective equipment, which established a colour-coded zone system in health-care settings and indicates what protective equipment — like masks, gowns and associated gear — is appropriate to each zone.

Nurses will now be able to use an N95 mask in situations where they are caring for patients with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. Employers will also be required to make accommodations for staff with medical conditions.

Nurses working in areas with patients at a low-risk of having COVID-19, dubbed  “green zones,” will now be able to use up to two masks per shift, said Siragusa.

In May, the nurses union said workers were being forced to sign out personal protective equipment, including masks and gowns, and were told to wear one mask for an entire shift.

The nurses union called the new agreement “a major victory”  in a news release Tuesday.

“For months, nurses have been voicing concern about inadequate PPE in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” union president Darlene Jackson said in the release.

“Every nurse has a right to a safe workplace, and this agreement is a big step in the right direction following months of advocacy by nurses on this critical health and safety issue.”

A stabilizing marketplace for protective equipment allowed for the changes, Siragusa said.

“The fact that the N95 orders are coming in, the fact that the marketplace has opened up, the fact we can track supply and demand, tells us this is the right time to make this decision.”

The province will monitor the impact the policy changes have on its supply of equipment, which is expected to last for at least the next 30 days. 

No health-care worker in Manitoba has contracted COVID-19 in more than two months, said Siragusa. Hospitals are currently operating at between 70 to 80 per cent capacity in medical, surgical and critical care units across the province. 

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