Ontario wants to change PPE directive for long-term-care workers, union says
CUPE says it was told that N95 masks aren’t necessary in every setting
TORONTO—Ontario is trying to “water down” guidelines that give health-care workers in long-term-care homes access to N95 masks, the union representing them said Friday, while Premier Doug Ford insisted protective equipment is available to the workers.
The province asked the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to begin discussions about removing that access from the provincial rules because it believed the masks weren’t necessary in every setting in the facilities, the union said.
Ontario is also seeking to control use of the limited supply of the masks, the province’s health minister acknowledged Friday.
The N95 masks block aerosolized virus particles and offer better protection than surgical masks currently in use, said Candace Rennick, the union’s secretary-treasurer and a former personal support worker. “We woke up (Thursday) morning to one of our members who has just died of COVID on the front line, and you want to talk to us about watering down what we consider already weak protections for the front line,” she said. “It’s a bit offensive.”
More than 1,700 workers in the province’s long-term-care homes have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least four have died from the illness, according to provincial data. CUPE, which represents 35,000 long-term-care workers, said the latest fatality was a personal support worker in Orleans, Ont., who died from the virus earlier this week.
Rennick said the government needs to rethink its personal protective gear strategy in the homes because of the rising rate of infection among residents and staff. It should secure more N95 masks and make them widely available to all staff in the facilities, she said.
“If the surgical masks are so great and everybody’s wearing them, then why do we have this wildfire spread?” she said.
The union also said the N95 masks are not widely available despite the current rule.
“They’re being told ‘No, no, you don’t really need that,’” said Rennick. “People say they have masks at their facility, but they’re somewhere in the facility under lock and key. They are not readily available.”
Ford said it’s “unacceptable” that long-term-care workers are not getting the protective equipment they require.
“We’ve sent out numerous letters, and it’s so frustrating hearing that the front-line people are having problems getting the PPE,” Ford said. “What I recommend — just call. Call my office. Call anyone. We’ll have it over there.”
Premier Doug Ford attends a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day at the Ontario Veterans’ Memorial at Queen’s Park on Friday. Ford says it’s “unacceptable” that long-term-care workers aren’t getting the safety equipment they need.