CALGARY -- Privately-owned doctor’s offices, dentists and massage therapists are continuing to advocate that the province support them by sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and face shields.

“We’ve been very grateful for that and with the cost reduction to the point we don’t have to embrace has been very helpful on all platforms,” said Dr. Scott Beach, president of Calgary & Area Medical Staff Society.

“Thus, on Monday we were very disturbed by the cancellation brought about by the minister and Alberta Health to offset that program by having us purchase our own PPE on a platform where the costs are becoming prohibitive to keep the practice open.”

Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced Monday that private sector that businesses would have to start purchasing their own PPE at market prices on July 1.

The Alberta government will continue supplying PPE to publicly funded continuing care centres, hospitals, clinics and homeless shelters.

Privately-owned clinics however, will have to deal with the added costs and the struggle of forming partnerships with reliable suppliers.

“As individual physicians exploring that, the investment of our time, and perhaps not having good feedbacks on the quality all while negotiating a price as a single entity versus a large entity becomes a challenge,” Beach said.

The family doctor at Glenbrook Medical Clinic says a majority of his physician colleagues have lost 50 per cent or more of their income since the COVID-19 pandemic.

He adds that the province should recognize family doctors as essential and still receive support.

“Family physicians are front line and essential as well,” he said.

“We have been the tip of the spear in the COVID response, be a big part of the testing and screening programs.”

Some businesses like Dentistry at Market Mall understand the additional expenditures, but point to an even greater issue.

“Right now it’s the quantity more than the quality of the equipment which is our main challenge,” said Dr. Neville Headley. “Right now we’re actually limited to the number of days we can work in a week because we don’t have the supplies and sometimes we have to limit hours on some days because not enough equipment is available.”

The dentist says he’d rather work less hours with the proper equipment than use anything of lesser quality.

Unfortunately, higher quality equipment can sometimes be hard to come by and cost exponentially more depending on how quickly it is needed.

“You could buy a disposable gown four months ago for 50 cents and now its $10.50 for the same item,” Headley said. “That’s the importance of being in partnership with your dental supply company that you’ve worked with for years because then you don’t have to worry about going to the guy on the corner to try and get something from him.”

According to a recent survey from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), more than half of Alberta’s small firms see PPE as a significant expense.

“Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen around 35 per cent of Alberta businesses also identify that acquiring sufficient amounts of PPE has been a challenge,” said CFIB’s provincial affairs director, Annie Dormuth.

“The Alberta government did take a good step forward in having some information available on their biz connect website to access PPE, however more can definitely be done.

Dormuth added that Alberta should look at what other provinces are doing to support, such as in Prince Edward Island where $2,000 grants have been offered to cover PPE costs for small businesses and retrofit office for physical distancing requirements.

Response from Ministry of Health

Alberta’s Ministry of Health says it recognizes how the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced economic activity and revenue for small businesses including visits to physicians offices.

Steve Buick, press secretary for Health Minister Tyler Shandro, adds that plenty of support has already been provided by the province and that physicians’ offices had procured their own supplies, including PPE, prior to the pandemic.

“Our government has supported physicians through the pandemic with a number of measures including providing them with free PPE and paying for unlimited phone or video calls with patients to avoid office visits,” Buick said.

“PPE is becoming much much readily available through commercial suppliers. Going forward, we think it’s reasonable for physicians to procure PPE for their own use, which is consistent with other provinces.”