Personal support worker shocked at thin and easily torn medical gowns
TORONTO -- An Ontario personal support worker says she feels “devalued” after receiving easily torn medical gowns that feel like “tissue paper” to wear while seeing patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Margo Frey, a community PSW in the Peterborough, Ont. area, told CTV News Toronto on Monday that she recently received a new shipment of personal protective equipment and that the quality of the medical gowns is “really poor.”
“This new gown that we got is so thin that I think if somebody spit on me it would go through,” she said. “We're not going to be properly protected. It's like a false sense of security.”
Frey said she and her coworkers have noticed that the gowns tear easily and are itchy. She said she has been told to assume every patient she helps has COVID-19 and to change her PPE after seeing each person.
“It's scary. We feel devalued because we're doing what we think is an important job, but obviously, the government doesn't think that we're important enough to have made any moves over the past year,” she said.
“These feel more like a tissue, a thin, thin tissue or tissue paper almost. Every gown that I've worn has ripped. If you pull on it, or you try to put it on, it rips on the arms.”
The Ontario government says it has spent nearly $1.1 billion on PPE including masks, gloves, medical gowns and face shields.
“All PPE distributed from the pandemic stockpile is medical grade and compliant with appropriate standards,” Ontario’s Ministry of Health said in a statement. “Public hospitals and long-term care homes must assess the available supply of PPE on an ongoing basis and continue to make appropriate PPE available to front-line staff.”
According to the Government of Canada website, there are four different levels of approved medical gowns, each with different material integrity.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Anna Benerjee said that while there are different grades of medical gowns, their main purpose is to prevent body secretions from falling on a person or a person’s clothing, and that the quality should be the same across the board during a pandemic.
“If someone’s coughing or vomiting, that gown is supposed to keep a barrier between the individual and the clothes they’re wearing,” she told CTV News Toronto.
“If there are tears in the gown and someone doesn’t recognize it, then the virus can get onto someone’s clothing or on their skin, and then someone’s more likely to self-contaminate themselves and get infected.”
Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, a union representing more than 60,000 workers in Ontario, said she is now asking all of its health-care units to start looking at their PPE to determine if the medical gowns were a bad batch or if the quality has simply dropped.
“We cannot fight COVID on the cheap. We cannot cut corners anywhere, we have to ensure that they are protected,” Stewart said.
Frey has said she has made a formal complaint with her company and is awaiting a response.
With files from CTV News Toronto's Rahim Ladhani