Shortage of masks preventing approximately 30 Ottawa paramedics from working with patients
Nearly three dozen Ottawa paramedics have been reassigned to duties that don’t involve patient care because the City can’t get enough properly fitting masks for them.
General Manager of Emergency and Protective Services Anthony Di Monte told reporters on Friday all paramedics are equipped with N95 masks–even before the COVID-19 pandemic–but each mask must be fit-tested and there are some members who can’t use the standard model.
“It has to fit your particular face and seal appropriately,” Di Monte said. “We always have, because the physiology of each of us is different, a certain number of people that can’t get a complete fit and there’s approximately 30 of our 700 paramedics who have to use a different one.”
Di Monte said the vast majority of paramedics use the 3M 1805 model. The ones who can’t use the 1805 have to use the 3M 1870+ model mask; however, the 1870+ is produced in smaller quantities and has become harder to obtain because of the pandemic.
Di Monte said, as soon as they realized they were running out of the masks, the service began looking at other options such as encapsulated respirators, but that requires different training to ensure each paramedic uses the new masks properly.
“In the interim, those 30 paramedics are assigned to other functions because they can’t do patient care functions or we’d be putting them at risk,” he said.
“We’re continuing to work to try to get the ones that they would require, but we’re not waiting for that to happen in the market. They’ll get training for full-face respirators and then they’ll be able to return to patient-care activities.
The paramedic service has been working with both Ontario’s Ministry of Health and the Champlain Local Health Integration Network to obtain N95 masks that fit properly, according to a statement from acting chief Peter Kelly.
“These specific masks continue to be on backorder and are not available from [their] stockpile inventory,” Kelly wrote.
The situation doesn’t sit well with the paramedics’ union.
“If we can’t protect ourselves, we can’t do our job, and we can’t protect the public,” said Jason Fraser, chair of the ambulance committee of Ontario for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
While the City of Ottawa should be ensuring its paramedics have access to the proper masks, the responsibility ultimately falls on the province, Fraser said.
“The provincial government needs to step up and ensure that the PPE for paramedics and every front-line worker is readily available, and we shouldn’t have to worry about where that next piece of equipment is coming from.”
In a statement, Ministry of Health spokesperson David Jensen told CBC that the supply of N95 masks is “stabilizing,” but they remain difficult to get.