Explaining the updates in the joint statement on PPE use during the COVID-19 pandemic

Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health have reached an important agreement with United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees on the safe and effective use of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an updated joint statement about their collective response to COVID-19, the unions and employers provided further clarity and support for health care workers about how to make decisions on the appropriate PPE based on risk assessments conducted for every patient interaction.

“This means health-care workers will have access to N95 respirators or equivalents, if they determine it is required based on their assessment,” the statement said.

“Employers and unions share the common goal of protecting the health and safety of health care workers,” the parties said in a public statement on the agreement. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, PPE has been a key factor in protecting the health and safety of health care workers by helping to prevent exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 as they provide high-quality care to Albertans.”

“As partners in the response to COVID-19, we trust our front-line health care teams to make appropriate decisions that support their physical and mental health,” the statement said. 

Several key changes in the updated statement are of particular concern to UNA members. These include: 

Recognition of the evolving evidence on transmission and the precautionary principle

  • This section incorporates and balances a number of perspectives including the precautionary principle and acknowledgement of new Infection, Prevention, & Control guidance and evolving evidence on transmission from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

No health care worker will be required to work with PPE contrary to their PCRA

  • These changes add clarity and emphasis that all health care workers, across the care continuum and in all clinical settings, who are within two metres of suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19 patients shall have access to the PPE they request, including fit-tested N95 respirators, based on their Point of Care Risk Assessment (PCRA) and this will not be unreasonably denied by the employer.
  • No health care worker will be required to work with PPE contrary to their PCRA nor will they be redeployed if there is a dispute.
  • A process has been established in the Joint Statement Supporting Guide for staff and leaders to handle the extremely rare event of a dispute. This includes an expedited dispute resolution process that UNA’s Provincial OHS Advisor can access.

Substitution of a procedure mask for an N95

  • At a minimum, contact and droplet precautions are still required when dealing with suspected or confirmed COVID patients, but health care workers may now replace their procedure mask with a fit-tested N95 respirator based on their PCRA, even in situations that do not involve aerosol generating medical procedures.

Supporting Guide for staff and leaders

All parties said they remained committed to continuing to work together to address issues and solve problems as they arise.