Human rights complaint filed against B.C. health-care authority over N95 respirator ban


A class complaint has been filed at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against a regional health-care authority over their policy prohibiting hospital patients and visitors from using N95 respirators.

The complaint was filed by Vancouver resident Lena Patsa on Wednesday against Fraser Health, the province’s largest health-care authority by population.

Patsa says she belongs to a group of people who are at higher risk of contracting severe COVID-19, and that Fraser Health’s policy prohibiting the use of N95 masks makes people like her feel unsafe accessing health care.

Current federal guidance recommends the use of N95-style respirators as a protective measure against COVID-19 — the result of accepted scientific consensus that the coronavirus is transmitted through the air

N95 respirators are estimated to filter out 95 per cent of microscopic particles in the air.

“There’s a lot of people [in hospitals], it’s an enclosed space, and they’re not making exceptions for people who are of high risk of contracting severe disease,” Patsa told CBC News. 

“[That] read to me as a clear human rights violation.”

Patsa adds that patients wearing their own N95 masks pose no risk to those around them and it is not a load on the system from a financial perspective.

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A spokesperson for Fraser Health redirected all enquiries to B.C.’s Ministry of Health, who confirmed that rules requiring all patients to wear medical masks remain in place provincewide.

“Poorly fitted or poor-quality respirators do not meet the Infection Prevention and Control standards in place at health-care sites, including immunization clinics and hospitals,” a ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

“Staff and visitors at clinical sites are provided with medical grade surgical masks that have been tested and validated.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said poorly-fitting respirators were not safe for use in hospitals due to them not meeting infection control standards. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

It is unclear how many patients have been turned away from care, or if any procedures have been cancelled, due to the policy. The spokesperson was not able to confirm those details by publication time.

Patsa says concerns around the fit of N95 respirators are not backed by science, with one peer-reviewed study showing even a poorly-fitted N95 respirator providing better protection against COVID-19 than a medical mask.

‘I have such a fear’

For one cancer patient, the province’s requirement for the use of medical masks in hospitals causes “huge” anxiety.

Jeremy Franta, from Delta, B.C., says he has to visit the hospital three times a month on average for treatment, and that he has sleepless nights before each visit because of the policy.

“I’m up early. I’m running through every scenario in the world of what I’m going to do,” he said.

“What if they stopped me? I’m practicing techniques I’m going to use to sneak in my [N95] mask somehow because I have such a fear.”

Franta says he has often been told to remove his N95 mask in favour of a medical mask, so he wears the blue medical mask over the N95 respirator before walking into the hospital. 

He describes himself “shaking like a leaf” every time he walks in wearing an N95 respirator.

“It is so overwhelming,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to fight to protect myself and my life, you know? And neither should others.”

Franta says he feels abandoned by the provincial government as a disabled immunocompromised person.

He says he is willing to get his N95 respirator fit-tested if that’s what hospital settings require, and that the province should encourage N95 use instead of clamping down on them.

“It’s so backwards,” he said. “They’re not following science … Why can’t they just be proactive and help the British Columbians? It’s crazy to me.”

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