'Quite substandard quality': Alberta front-line workers concerned about new procedure masks
CALGARY -- The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) is criticizing the Alberta government over the "shoddy" surgical masks delivered to Alberta's hospitals this week.
Dozens of health-care professionals have taken to social media to complain about the quality of the new equipment, saying the masks don't fit properly, fall apart easily and give off a smell that causes respiratory problems and headaches in some workers.
"The nose pinch doesn't fit, there's a chemical or smoky odor when you're wearing it, the earloop bands snaps easily and I've noticed that the whole shift that I have to wear it I've got throat irritation/sore throat but as soon as I get home after an hour it's gone," said one poster on the United Nurses of Alberta Facebook page.
Others remarked how the masks didn't seal properly, easily fell off their faces and required constant touching to keep them over their mouths and noses.
"It's a complete and utter safety issue. Not only for us, but for our patients. If you don't have proper mask fits that don't work properly, you're at a much higher risk of getting COVID," said Dr. Micheal Chatenay, a general surgeon at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton.
The new masks are supplied by China-based Vanch. According to the supplier's website, the disposable medical masks boast three-layer filtration, melt-blown cloth and are "Authoritative certificated, safe and reliable."
Chatenay said it was immediately apparent the new masks were "quite substandard quality."
"What I noticed about them is that the nose piece doesn’t crimp properly and stick to your nose, so it doesn’t form a proper seal. My glasses would be fogging up and without a proper seal, obviously, breathing can create a potential for contamination," he said.
According to the AUPE, the "botched surgical masks" were part of the $200-million shipment of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Health Minister Tyler Shandro promised to the front lines in a press conference on April 11.
At that same press conference, Shandro announced Alberta would send personal protective equipment and ventilators to Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.
""I assure all Albertans that we have ample supply (of PPE). We are in a position both to keep Albertans safe and to help ensure Canadian health care systems from coast to coast are equipped to take on the challenges ahead," Shandro said.
In an emailed statement, Steve Buick, the press secretary for Alberta's Health Ministry, said all PPE procured by AHS is safe and will protect staff and patients.
"AHS is doing a superb job of sourcing PPE. To do so, they’re working with new suppliers, and that includes adjusting products to meet their needs and respond to staff concerns," Buick said.
Buick said AHS's regular suppliers cannot currently meet their needs for procedure masks and staff may see 10 new brands in the coming weeks.
Alberta Health Services took to Twitter Sunday to say they were aware of the front-line workers' concerns regarding the masks and they were taking the feedback seriously.
"Future shipments from this supplier will include corrections to the nose piece & a one-centimetre increase in size to improve the fit. We are also working on addressing concerns about odor from one new model of mask," AHS said.