Calgary doctor challenges AHS mask policy change in court |

A Calgary doctor is planning to go to court to stop Alberta Health Services from abandoning its continued masking policy.

On Thursday, the provincial health authority said after Monday there will be no need to continue masking at AHS facilities, continuing care facilities and contracted sites. This includes Alberta Precision Laboratories, Covenant Health, CapitalCare and Carewest sites.

Dr. David Keegan organized a crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 to file a court injunction against AHS that lifted the facility’s mask mandate on June 19. That gofundme reached its goal in less than 24 hours.

On Thursday afternoon, Keegan said he had hired a senior legal counsel and that the court case “will move forward” in a tweet at 4:01pm

Keegan said he is looking to care for patients, staff and members of the public.

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Anyone on AHS premises, we need to be able to rely on the airwaves, have reasonable measures in place to keep them safe, he told Global News.

We know COVID is in the air. It spreads just like cigarette smoke, and if people stop masking, it will infect or contaminate the air.

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The concern is particularly high for people who are immunocompromised, such as newborns or cancer patients, for whom a COVID infection places them at a much higher likelihood of serious outcomes.

AHS said patients are encouraged to have conversations with their healthcare providers about masking, hand hygiene or other factors patients feel are important to their care.

But Keegan said it’s unrealistic to ask someone sick on a gurney to ask the nurse or doctor to mask up.

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I don’t know if people really understand the power differential between health care workers who are well and patients who are sick, Keegan said. And I lived it and I walked that path.

You cannot hold them accountable for basic measures to protect people with disabilities and chronic illnesses when you can simply keep a very minor, reasonable and easy to do arrangement.

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According to the latest AHS Infection Prevention and Control Annual Report, patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were infected primarily in the community. But in early 2022, there was a sharp increase in the rate of hospital-acquired cases from 2.12 to 14.54 per 10,000 patient-days compared to the third quarter: October-December 2021.

A recent Canadian Nosocomial Infection Surveillance Program paper also said that during waves five and six in the first half of 2022, transmission of COVID-19 in hospitals nationwide increased.

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Despite a reduction in serious outcomes in waves five and six, the burden of COVID-19 on Canadian hospitals has been substantial, the report reads.

That was the same time that the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant became dominant in the province and the country.

The president of the United Nurses of Alberta expressed concern about how AHS policy changes could affect the health and well-being of nurses from both COVID-19 and the public.

Heather Smith said the change in policy in no way removes obligations for workers to be safe, to ensure their patients, residents, customers are safe and that they must wear appropriate PPE to adapt to the situation.

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Smith pointed to the latest release of data on the pandemic in Alberta which showed 352 people were in hospitals with COVID, across all AHS zones.

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The UNA president was also concerned about the message that the mask wearing policy sends, the perception that everything is fine, health workers don’t need to (wear masks).

And I’m also worried about the backlash that why are you wearing them? You shouldn’t wear them as the mask obligation is gone.’

UNA has an PPE agreement with AHS, initially put in place in 2020 and amended in 2021. Smith said it was also reiterated this week by AHS, which he said were very good at sourcing and maintaining an adequate supply of PPE.

He said Albertans should not hesitate to seek health care following the change in mask policy.

We have an obligation not only to keep ourselves safe but also to protect members of the public, Smith said. And I would suggest that that includes masking.

AHS said the decision to remove the masking requirement in health care facilities was based on several factors, including the decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta, wastewater data and hospitalization rates for respiratory illnesses .

The healthcare worker said he consulted with stakeholders such as patients, families, advisory boards, doctors and frontline managers to arrive at his decision.

AHS said people are welcome to wear masks if they choose, but they won’t be forced to.

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AHS added that it will closely monitor COVID-19 data to see if any changes to the new policy are needed.

Keegan announced on Twitter Friday that he has hired legal counsel and the court case will move forward.

“Please keep the mask mandate in effect until a full disability impact review can be performed and accommodations implemented,” he wrote directly to AHS in the tweet.

He’s also skeptical of any assurances that all AHS HVAC systems will be able to provide enough fresh air.

The trick is that we don’t know until you test things under real circumstances, said the GP.

Keegan said he measured CO2 levels as a proxy for how cool the air is in a room during a 10-minute patient visit. In that time, levels have doubled from 600 to 1,200 parts per million, he said she, apparently showing a lack of fresh air exchange.

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Until we know that every place is safe and has great air quality, we can’t just assume they are, he said.

Our duty is to provide a safe space for patients to seek care and to provide a safe space for our staff, doctors, contractors, students and anyone else who may be in those places.

Provinces such as BC, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have abandoned mandatory masking in health care settings.

California made a similar move in April, but a Bay Area hospital had to reinstate its masking policy after a COVID-19 outbreak.

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