Residents of Tri-City seniors' home at greater risk due to medical supply shortage
Health

Residents of Tri-City seniors’ home at greater risk due to medical supply shortage

An organization representing British Columbia’s seniors care providers is warning that supplies of surgical masks and gloves are drying up as a result of public hoarding due to coronavirus concerns. 

Their message echoes one sent out by the U.S. Surgeon General on Twitter last week: “Stop buying masks!”

“Care home operators are telling us that it is increasingly difficult to obtain items such as surgical masks and gloves due to the surge in public demand caused by concerns over the coronavirus,” said BC Care Providers Association CEO Daniel Fontaine in a press release. “Every report to date indicates that it is older people with underlying chronic health conditions — like those who are living in care homes — who are most susceptible to COVID-19.”

Across the border in Washington, health officials have reported at least 39 positive cases and 10 deaths, with most linked to a suburban nursing home. 

Here in B.C., provincial health officials have reported 13 positive cases of the contagion, with the latest case announced Wednesday, March 5, involving a woman in her 80s who had recently returned from a tour of India and Hong Kong. 

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry described the woman’s condition as critical and said she remains under care in isolation at Vancouver General Hospital. Health authorities say they will make another announcement regarding the contagion Thursday afternoon.

But it’s not just supply of key medical items that has become a problem as people stock up. Reports from several care homes indicate the stock of medical supplies is drying up at the same time as the cost of the items is spiking. In one example, the organization said it found surgical masks are being sold for up to 11 times their price a few weeks ago.

“While the public should take preventative measures for their own health, the stockpiling of medical supplies we are seeing will have serious consequences for our seniors in care,” said Bob Breen, executive director for the Denominational Health Association. “Until we can reestablish our supply chains again, members of the public can help seniors care providers by not purchasing these goods.”

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Here in the Tri-Cities, a nurse at a one retirement residence told The Tri-City News they can’t place an order for masks because they’re all on back-order, although a manager later denied any supply issues. 

Mandi Strickland of Home Instead Senior Care — an in-home care provider that sends caretakers to seniors’ homes — said her organization usually requires families to provide masks should one of the clients come down with the illness. But as of late, some families have told her they’ve had trouble sourcing the masks. 

According to another nurse at Astoria Retirement Residence in Port Coquitlam, shortages of masks were first noticed in late January.

“Hospitals before even us,” said the nurse, who asked not to be named. “The hospitals are first priority, they need all the masks… They’re running low.” 

Staff at Astoria have ramped up monitoring at the facility. One woman who showed flu-liked symptoms was immediately brought to a hospital to be tested for COVID-19. Her test came back negative, said the nurse.

Staff at Astoria have also revamped their protocols for visitors, expanding their sign-in process to cover recent travel and any signs of illness. If any flags are raised, the nurse said, staff direct visitors to turn back and get out of the building.

“We have a very social population. We do have family coming from Washington, We do have family coming from out of town,” said the nurse.

But as the transmission of the virus reaches more people — 13 in B.C. as of March 5 — supplies have continued to dry up at Astoria.

“Whatever I can get in, I get in. Even the cheaper masks, hand sanitizer. Just get them in the building,” the nurse said.

Usually, the retirement home offers a box of masks to visitors. On Thursday, the nurse instructed staff to guard the remaining stock for staff. 

In a survey of its members, SafeCare BC found that 57% are reporting problems ordering personal protective equipment for care workers. Most challenging was ensuring supply of surgical masks, N95 masks, gloves and alcohol-based hand rub, according to the BC Care Providers Association. 

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