Some Alberta physicians are paying premium prices for medical gear on the open market despite the province sending hundreds of thousands of masks and other safety equipment to other provinces, leaving some doctors on the front lines feeling abandoned.
Anmol Kapoor, for example, is a cardiologist in Calgary who recently secured 1,000 masks from a dental supplier in Toronto for $2 each, compared to the 20 cents he usually pays. He has been sharing supplies with other physicians who are running low on protective equipment.
“I’m a cardiologist and I’m delivering masks to a family doctor right now,” Dr. Kapoor said Monday afternoon. “And I did that last week.”
Countries and private companies around the world are competing for critical machines and personal protective equipment as the novel coronavirus sweeps the globe. Prices for medical gear has skyrocketed and fuelled black markets.
Health care workers in Alberta are rationing and reusing masks in order to stretch supplies. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, however, late last week said his province has enough ventilators and PPE to make it through the crisis. As a result, Alberta will ship critical equipment, ranging from ventilators to N95 respirator masks, to British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
Premiers on the receiving end of Alberta’s generosity expressed gratitude, while some Alberta doctors were left frustrated. Specialists, such as endocrinologists and cardiologists who are not part of Alberta Health Services, usually buy supplies on the open market. But Dr. Kapoor argues the government’s hyper-focus on COVID-19 means specialists like him are left fending for themselves, even though he and others are still seeing patients.
“I feel like I’m abandoned,” he said, although he says he believes Alberta’s decision to ship medical equipment to other provinces was an oversight, rather than designed to intentionally hurt the province’s physicians.
Dr. Kapoor, who also bought face shields on Amazon, said specialists like him should not be overlooked because he and his colleagues must physically examine patients. In doing so, they are taking pressure off other parts of the health care system, which is focused on COVID-19.
Dr. Kapoor on Monday gave one of his friends about 150 masks, which will last that doctor’s office about three months when accounting for reuse.
That doctor said he has been rationing procedural masks and N95 respirators. Without critical gear, he said, he is unable to do tasks such as nasal swabs or look down a patient’s throat. The Globe and Mail agreed to his request for anonymity; he said he did not want to be seen to be criticizing the Alberta government.
Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said the province is accepting PPE requests for doctors outside AHS’s network. The requests are being evaluated against “urgency of need,” she said Monday.
She deflected a question about why Alberta is sharing supplies to the Health Minister’s office.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro previously said the province is confident in its calculation.
“I assure all Albertans that we have ample supply,” he said in a statement Saturday. "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.”
David Shepherd, NDP health critic, on Monday said health care workers are questioning Alberta’s medical math.
“We support efforts to help Canada battle COVID-19 from coast to coast; however, we are hearing numerous concerns about a shortage of front-line supplies of lifesaving equipment right here in Alberta,” he said in a statement. “We have heard from doctors, nurses, municipal leaders and those working with Albertans with disabilities that the necessary supplies they need to do their jobs safely have not been confirmed.”
Alberta is sending Ontario 50 ventilators, 87,000 goggles, 15 million gloves, 2.5 million procedural masks and 250,000 N95 respirator masks. Quebec will receive the same amount of gloves and N95 respirators, as well as two million procedural masks. B.C. will get 250,000 N95 respirators from Alberta’s stockpile.
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