Shortage of protective gear ‘critical,’ says air ambulance operator

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NWT’s air ambulance service is scrounging for much-needed protective gear in a global shortage.

Advanced Medical Solutions – which provides air and ground ambulance services for small communities and industry – is in dire need of gear like surgical masks and gloves as it responds to the pandemic, according to president and CEO Sean Ivens.

“We’re quickly coming to the end of our supply,” he said. “In working with our suppliers, we’ve had a very limited response. Now we’re looking at alternatives on how to acquire more.”

Sean Ivens president and CEO at Advanced Medical Solutions, dons sorely needed protective gear while screening industry employees recently.
Photo courtesy of Sean Ivens

Ivens recently took to social media to plea for support from NWT businesses. He called on supplies from workplaces like dentist offices, physiotherapy clinics, and beauty salons that have temporarily shuttered.

“We’re at a fairly critical stage, where we’re low on (protective gear),” he said.

Ivens told NNSL Media that the company was busy searching for stray boxes of masks and gloves throughout the company’s operations, comparing it to finding spare pens in an office.

That solution, however, is far from long term. 

He’s also appealed for help from the Territories Health and Social Services Authority, but it’s facing the same crunch. There’s a global spike in demand and suppliers are struggling to keep pace.

On top of that, all of his air ambulance staff are from out of territory. As emergency services, they’re permitted to work but still must self-isolate for 14 days, meaning they have to don surgical masks. 

While those staff members hurried to help as the crisis hit, the company is now faced with an “exponential” drain on its resources as a result, Ivens said. 

Similarly, the demand from community health centres has spiked, busying the operation with resupply that also strains its supplies. 

That service, nonetheless, is key for small communities with packed housing and few health-care resources, which public health officials have identified as a key vulnerability.

To limit the risk, it’s critical for individuals to socially distance to protect their households and families, Ivens said. 

The crunch comes as the service has been in emergency management meetings for the past three weeks. Those meetings discuss planning, while another working group tackles cleaning of facilities and equipment amid the crisis. Another working group handles personal protective equipment.

“The whole business is put on hold while we manage our emergency preparedness,” Ivens said. 

Call volumes and normal operations haven’t changed for the company yet, but the future holds plenty of unknowns.

Ivens anticipates that there will be need for the gear for months, and it’s unclear when resupply will come. For potential alternative supply sources, time is of the essence.

“The sooner, the better,” Ivens said. 

One Yellowknife store, Creative Basics, recently stocked-up on protective gear. All such shipments make the hospital their first priority, its co-owner Amanda Avery said.

However, the store was “experiencing shortages and delays in delivery similar to all providers across Canada,” she continued. Despite that, the store is offering free delivery in Yellowknife, and continues to ship to other communities.

Not a systematic problem, union says

Todd Parsons, president of Union Northern Workers, said two of his union’s members have raised concerns, but described those issues as limited.

“We have not been able to confirm that there’s been a shortage of personal protective equipment at this moment of time,” he said.

“It doesn’t appear to be a systematic problem,” Parsons continued.

Concerns one member raised weeks ago over whether protective equipment was available, and whether appropriate training was in place. That was addressed and resolved, he said.

Another individual at Stanton Territorial Hospital contacted the union on Wednesday, and said healthcare workers didn’t have enough protective gear. 

But Parsons said it hasn’t been raised as a systematic problem, though that may change. Should that come to pass, he said healthcare workers have the right to refuse unsafe work.

“If an employee doesn’t have access to personal protective equipment to do their work, they have a legal right to refuse to work,” he said.

 

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