Alberta donated millions of masks; workers here got poor quality ones

On 11 April 2020, the Government of Alberta announced that they’d be sending millions of masks to BC, Ontario & Québec. Now, healthcare workers say they’re left with poor quality masks.

On 11 April 2020, the Government of Alberta announced that they’d be sending 4.5 million procedural masks, 750,000 N95 masks, 30 million gloves, 87,000 goggles, and 50 ventilators to BC, Ontario, and Québec.

Less than a week later, a Reddit user going by the name of MutantProgress shared a screenshot of a message from a healthcare worker regarding masks that workers at their hospital in Calgary are being asked to wear.

The information in the screenshot—as well as the ensuing discussion in the comments on the Reddit post—have raised questions about the provincial government’s decision to donate millions of protective equipment to other provinces.

In the message, this healthcare worker outlines a couple of issues with the masks they and their colleagues are being asked to wear.

First, instead of receiving a new shipment of masks every day as usual, this hospital received no new masks during a 5-day period. And second, when the new masks finally arrived, they were low quality: they ripped easily and are poor fitting.

This message, however, doesn’t seem to be a solitary opinion. Several comments confirmed the general sentiment of this message regarding protective equipment.

I’m an RN in the central zone and I can confirm this is true. The masks are terrible, don’t fit properly, have fallen off nurses faces while in patient isolation rooms, and smell really terrible. They’re causing skin irritation, sore throats, and bad headaches. It’s so disappointing that this is what we have to deal with.


My girlfriend is a nurse. She confirmed this to me as well. Also complained that the new masks have a noxious chemical odor to them and gave her a headache for her entire shift.


I’m an RN in Alberta, and I can confirm these masks are absolutely terrible!! Constantly sliding down your nose, huge gaps at the sides, can’t properly seal the nose so you’re blowing air into your eyes whenever you exhale, and the worst part is they are causing massive issues with skin irritation, throat and lung irritation. On my second shift wearing one my face was swollen and burning within an hour and I could feel my airway constricting, so I had to take it off. Probably half the nurses on my unit have had similar reactions to these masks. Makes me sad that the health and lives of frontline healthcare workers are worth so little to this government.


This is true. Our hospital has filed a complaint because the masks are terrible. The elastics break. They pucker at the sides and under the chin and the nose piece doesn’t stay bent. They smell and feel cheap:(. One of my coworkers broke out into hives from wearing it and had to go home. My eyes water from wearing it as if there’s chemicals in it.


Can also confirm. Had a nice mask for one shift, had days off and came back to hear we were down to our last box. Had new ones come in and they are awful! They don’t fit on the face right and leave your cheeks, nose, and any contact rashy. Other nurses I work with stated headaches with the smell. We all hate them but are mandated to wear them for 12 hours.


One nurse in the South Zone reached out to me on social media and also confirmed these reports.

And it’s not just nurses. Lindsay Campbell, a family physician in Spruce Grove, offered her own confirmation on the quality of the masks through a tweet.

A doctor in Lacombe also confirmed these claims on Twitter:

Mike Chatenay, a surgeon in Edmonton, also agreed with the poor condition of the equipment.

As did a rural family doctor in the Red Deer area.

Finally, Edward Woo, a family physician and hospitalist at Rockyview General Hospital, also confirmed these complaints.

In a media release, AUPE—half of whose members are healthcare workers—echoed the sentiments seen above, referring to these PPEs as “part of the $200-million shipment of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Health Minister Tyler Shandro promised to the front lines in a press conference on April 11”.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) purchased the items from manufacturing giants across the globe. Over the last week PPE deliveries arrived at AHS facilities. Since then, health-care workers from multiple sites have taken to social media calling out poor craftsmanship of PPE and saying the government did not deliver on its promise.

Staff are reporting surgical masks that do not seal their faces properly, pinch their noses and straps that fall apart during patient care. Many have also experienced nausea, headaches, skin rashes and throat irritation after wearing the masks, which have an unpleasant and overwhelming odour. Some sites have started sending stock back.

The United Nurses of Alberta, the union that represents nurses in the province, stated in a Facebook post:

AHS normally procures and supplies the Primed PM-PG-1211 surgical mask but they have been unable to source the necessary volumes of this specific mask to meet the additional demands related to the new continuous masking guidelines. At this time, they have two additional suppliers providing two new types of procedure masks (Vanch & Primed 186771).

In the last few days, these new types of procedure/surgical masks have been distributed to sites across the province (which may include non AHS sites) and we have been hearing concerns from our members related to odor, fit, nose pinch and retention. We have raised these concerns directly with senior Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) representatives within AHS and they are investigating.

Alberta Health Services responded through their own Twitter account on a thread that referenced the Reddit post, saying that some PPEs are new models but that all of them are safe:

On Saturday, Steve Buick, press secretary to provincial Health Minister Tyler Shandro, echoed AHS’s Twitter thread:

AHS is doing a superb job of sourcing PPE. To do so, they’re working with new suppliers, and that includes adjusting products to meet their needs and respond to staff concerns.

Yet, only a day later, AHS seemed to change their mind, directly responding to concerns raised by healthcare workers in another Twitter thread:

AHS also responded yesterday in a Twitter thread that they’re creating a worker=led focus group to deal with this issue.

This change in response occurred because workers pushed back, and because the media started addressing it.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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