Depleted PPE supplies put B.C.'s readiness for pandemic in jeopardy: memo
VANCOUVER -- Years ago, B.C. built a stockpile of masks, gowns and gloves to protect front-line workers from a future pandemic. But when B.C. needed it, that stockpile was badly depleted, documents show.
Critics are blaming lack of forethought when it comes to a public safety threat that may have contributed to infections among those front-line workers fighting COVID-19.
“We didn’t maintain that level of heightened awareness and precaution and preparedness,” said B.C. Nurses Union President Christine Sorenson, adding that a PPE shortage prompted hospitals to take measures including asking nurses to wear the same masks throughout the day.
“We have so far about 100 nurses that have made claims in British Columbia to WorkSafeBC for infection in the workplace,” she said.
It was a shortage flagged by Dr. Bonnie Henry herself, she said in response to questions from CTV News at a press conference this week.
“It was an area I had flagged a number of years ago. As you can imagine it was a challenge to build up insurance policies during times of peace,” Dr. Henry said.
“In January we brought together all of the different pieces and did a rapid inventory of what was on hand… we never had a shortage. We did have to keep it managed centrally so there wasn’t hoarding in certain areas,” she said.
A memo and other documents obtained by Bob Mackin and TheBreaker.News show a late scramble early in 2020 to account for the missing equipment. According to the memo, B.C. health authorities had lost about two-thirds of its PPE supply between 2013 and 2019.
“Should a widespread pandemic occur in B.C., the current level of pandemic supplies will likely not meet B.C.’s requirements, which may lead to a public safety risk,” reads the February 13 memo.
It says in July 2013, pandemic supplies were valued at $5.7 million. By January 2020, this inventory had sunk by more than half to $2 million.
In 2014, as Ebola rampaged through parts of Africa, and cases even showed up in the United States, B.C.’s health authorities donated $1.6 million of essential masks and other personal protective equipment.
But it wasn’t replaced, documents show, as the agencies found other ways to use their diminishing supply
Nearly 40 per cent of Vancouver Coastal Health’s supply, worth half a million dollars, expired before it could be used.
Nearly half of Northern Health’s stockpile also expired, leaving them with a supply worth just $15,000.
Fraser Health rated almost a third of its own supply for everyday use.
Interior Health raided 28 per cent of its own supply, and donated the rest, so that it had literally nothing left.
Only Vancouver Island Health Authority actually increased its supply by 10 per cent.
As a result of the memo, B.C. centralized the purchasing of PPE.
“We have brought everyone together under the direction of PHSA (the provincial health services authority) and those people have done an exceptional job in these circumstances,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said.