Health-care support workers need more PPE, access to rapid testing, union says

A union representing health-care support workers in Winnipeg is raising concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing for those working in hospitals where patients are sick with the illness.

Those issues are being brought up as two of the city’s hospitals battle COVID-19 outbreaks: St. Boniface, where at least 31 people have been infected and one patient has died; and Victoria General, where no fewer than two patients have contracted the illness.

Debbie Boissonneault, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204, said there needs to be more consistency in when health-care workers are being given N95 masks.

“I believe when they’re working with COVID-positive patients, they need to have an N95 mask,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to beg. You shouldn’t have to fill out an assessment form.”

Boissonneault said the union also wants to see everyone who’s on a unit where a COVID-19 outbreak is declared be tested for the illness. Right now, she said, that rapid testing isn’t made available to some workers, like X-ray and lab technicians and housekeepers.

“I believe that they need to be treated the same as all other staff when it comes to rapid testing. It was very saddening to hear that they were not,” she said.

“If you miss somebody and they don’t get tested and they’re positive without symptoms, are we spreading it further?”

The union represents a range of health-care support workers across the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Shared Health, Boissonneault said, including housekeepers, home care workers and health-care aides. Some of its members work in the hospitals that are currently the sites of COVID-19 outbreaks, she said.

The union filed 55 grievances with various hospitals as of Oct. 19, she said, adding that some of its members are worried they aren’t being protected at work during the pandemic.

“We know that this has happened big in other places, other provinces, that have had major outbreaks and we don’t want to be like them,” she said.

“We are starting to have our numbers [increase], so we need to help flatten the curve together and work together.”

Enough equipment: Shared Health

A spokesperson for Shared Health said in an email the department is confident it has procured enough equipment to address any surge in patient volumes following pandemic planning done in the spring.

Appropriate use of PPE, combined with routine infection control practices like hand hygiene and sanitization of equipment, have “proven effective” in Manitoba hospitals, the spokesperson said. Contingency planning, including the ordering more personal protective equipment, might also take place if needed.

“This may occur on a provincial basis, but it may also occur as needed, site by site if staffing or resource issues occur due to spikes in COVID-19 activity or staff illness [or] isolation,” the spokesperson said.

“Shared Health is committed to working with all unions and all health service delivery organizations to address their concerns.”