Masks and Solidarity

March 17, 2020
Tough Decisions
March 20, 2020
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Masks and Solidarity



Sharing resources in a time of scarcity

Your hospital has just received a request from a neighbouring hospital to share your supply of N95 masks.  How should you respond?

First, the ethical value of solidarity.  In usual times the primary commitment of a health care provider is to their patient, of a hospital to its local community and so on.  But these are extraordinary times.  This is a public health emergency and so those local commitments are inadequate.  We have to take a broader view of the community we serve.  This is solidarity in action. So, does this mean a hospital should just open its supply cabinets?

No, there are important questions to be asked of those requesting access to your organization’s supplies.

  1. How are the supplies being used? There is variability in the way masks are being employed in various organizations.  There is strong pressure to make masks widely available to staff, but this approach would very rapidly deplete all the available supplies.  So, which staff – presumably those caring for people who have tested positive for the virus and those in assessment roles, should have access to masks – and what masks?  How safe is “safe enough?”  This question needs a consistent answer.  Before you open your supply cabinet it would make sense to ensure that masks are being deployed in similar ways across organizations.
  2. How is the request coordinated across other organizations? Not only should the masks be deployed in similar ways, but organizations should also respond in ways that are consistent.  If we are sharing our supplies, we need to be assured that others are acting in the same way.

Note, the questions are practice related and forward looking.  At this stage it does not matter how the other organization got to the place that is in – although you might want to congratulate the foresight and planning of your own team, what matters is what can be done now to help the community.

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