What you may not know about the AHS face masks

Last week, someone reached out to me over email. They claim that they work in the supply management side of Alberta Health Services and wanted to share some of what’s happening behind the scene.

The first thing this AHS employee wanted me to know was that their department is trying to do what they can to source and distribute supplies to AHS sites:

We’re working as hard as we can to source and manage stock outs. Vendors are dealing with supply disruptions because everyone needs the same things. Sites are getting PPEs stolen, and entire hand sanitizing units are being ripped off walls. We have to ration the quantity of PPEs we send to each site.

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With that being said, this worker is frustrated with actions and rhetoric of both the provincial government and AHS management. One area is the ongoing dismissal of concerns regarding masks, and related instructional PDFs and videos, like this one.

One concern that healthcare staff have expressed about the new masks was the odd odour, something they claim didn’t exist in the masks they used to use.

According to the person who emailed me, the supply management side of AHS has has been unpacking masks over the last few weeks to offgas from the manufacturing smells. They said that while they’ve been unpacking the masks, they’ve noticed differences in product consistency, despite all apparently coming from the same company: Vanch.

But it isn’t just this person’s own perception. They included in their email a photo they took showing several quality control certificates. At the bottom of each certificate is the company that produced that mask.

In this batch of certificates, you can clearly see 2 manufacturers: Henan Xianghe Medical Materials Co., Ltd. in Zhoukou, China, and Anhui Yimeijian Medical Products Co., Ltd. in Tianchang, China. Zhoukou and Tianchang are about 500 kilometres apart. This shows that not only does Vanch not produce all the masks they sell, but they contract it out to multiples manufacturers.

Staff in the supply department were told by AHS that when unpacking and repacking masks, they should watch for differences in quality, in particular the nose pinchers.

Take the photo below, for example, which the sender included in their email.

The mask in the background had good pinchers, while the one in the foreground immediately reverts back to its packaged state after pinching.

Here it is in action:

Staff check one mask from each case that comes across their workspace. If the mask has good pinchers, they mark the entire case with an A, designating it for acute care. If the mask had poor pinchers, they marked the entire case with a C, designating it for community care.

According to this person, “many cases” were designated community care.

If you rewatch the YouTube I included above, you can see the model is demonstrating a mask that had been designated acute care.

On 9 April 2020, the AHS Board approved the purchase of PPEs “through Mraiche Holding Corporation, on the terms and conditions reviewed by the Finance Committee and the Board”, despite purchase orders being filled with Mriache Holding in mid-March.

It’s unclear what those terms were, as I couldn’t find anything beyond that statement, but the person who sent me this information claims that the Vanch masks cost about 85¢ apiece through Mraiche Holding. They also claim that the 3M N95 masks they used to procure from Acklands-Grainger cost about 50¢ apiece. Through Mraiche Holding, according to this employee, AHS is paying $8 for N95’s and $3 for KN96’s.

Related to that, this AHS worker claims that AHS has purchased orders for various PPEs (including gowns and thermometers) from Mraiche Holding totalling about $228 million. That’s $228 million in just two months, $50 million of which is for 3-ply ear loop Vanch masks.

Mraiche Holding is an Alberta-based corporation with subsidiary companies that include Mraiche Investment Corp; MYE Canada Inc, a bottled water company; Carver PA Corporation, a technical training company specializing in oil & gas industry training; and Krude Productions Inc., an underground utility construction contractor. According to their website, KPI has worked on the following projects:

  • Bison: a natural gas pipeline by TC Energy (Transcanada)
  • Woodland: a crude oil pipeline by Enbridge
  • Keystone: a crude oil pipeline by TC Energy
  • Rockies Express: a natural gas pipeline by Kinder Morgan
  • Alberta Clipper: a crude oil pipeline by Enbridge

Carver PA Corporation is owned by someone named Sam Mraiche (also known as Hassin Mraiche), who in a 2013 tax court ruling was listed as the company’s president. In 2013, Carver was taken to court by the minister of national revenue for not paying Employment Insurance premiums and Canada Pension Plan contributions when hiring a consultant to work on a pipeline project with Suncor.

According to the person who emailed me, Sam Mraiche is the vendor contact for Mraiche Holding and emailed AHS using his Carver email address.

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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.

6 replies on “What you may not know about the AHS face masks”

I wish I could express surprise but having grown up in the world of healthcare the minute you slap “medical supplies” on any equipment prices sky rocket, in part, because of a world of regulation that have had the oversight bodies that have been completely eroded over the past 30 years. In other words we pay for paper regulations that have no bodies to oversee them. My wheelchair, build at Sunrise Medical in California, costs $2800 on their website but to get it into Canada it first has to go to a “special” medical customs house for approval, clear the other steps in the regulatory system so by the time it reaches to me the cost has escalated to $6800 (including a custom $820 wheelchair cushion). It seems whenever you stamp “medical device” prices explode.

I get my tubes and tires now from bike stores because they are about a third of the price. What a medical supply house will tell you is that”you don’t have tp pay taxes on medical supplies purchased from a recognize distributor”. I grew up in healthcare due to polio, I worked in healthcare for almost 20 years at the Holy Cross in Calgary, I have been an activist for disability rights for most of my life, I was a United Nurses of Alberta bargaining unit President in Calgary, I sat on a number of Canadian Labour Congress committees focused on the social nature of the labour movement and I am one of the first generation of life-long disabled to reach retirement. I have spend my life fighting against regulations that are so inflexible that they wind up being a “barrier” to those who they were designed to help but now act as a shield for government based on optics and not substance. Bending or ignoring of rules I have fought for are now catching up. With a tsunami of independent life long disabled members of the labour force now hitting retirement we are confronted by a world of regulations meant to dissuade rather than support. Try and find a truly “affordable and accessible” place to live when you are a senior in a wheelchair.

Because of my career in healthcare and the labour movement (my right to work was not guaranteed until 1976) I have an extensive network of healthcare activists. I can tell you regarding these “masks” Kenney so magnanimously provided other provinces were substandard. At least one province I am aware of (and for the protection of the person that shared this with me I cannot identify her/him) had to destroy almost a third of his generosity in a costly way. These are considered “biohazard” materials and the destruction of them is a very regulated costly process. Kenney’s attempt to look generous was simply downloading the cost of proper disposal on other jurisdictions.

As a former 5 year old polio poster child I have grown up understanding the importance of “optics” which has really replaced substance. The picture of Kenney standing in front of 100’s of boxes of PPE is classic. Nobody pays attention to the substance or quality of what is in those boxes. This is a repeat of the 1955 Cutter fiasco where the newspaper picture of a person of the day standing in front of 1000’s of vials of the polio vaccine (also substandard) was very favourable despite the lack of quality control resulting in the needless death of so many young polio victims. For details on that check the history of “The Cutter Incident, How America’s First Polio Vaccine Led to a Vaccine Crisis”. For the record to escape the stigma of that tragedy Cutter changed their name to “Bayer”. Regulatory practices took off from there but those same practices never kept pace with the changing technology. I enjoy your articles so let’s rush the fear driving the need to beat the COVID19 crisis blind what little common sense there is left out there…

Even the ones with “good” nose pinchers, they are garbage masks that don’t serve their purpose.

Thank you so much for your keen research and commentary. We need this kind of information in an era when journalists are cut and the government obscures the truth. Look forward to reading more.

Kim, I’m putting together a video about these face masks. May I take screenshots of this article to use in the video? I’ll credit you. Please get back to me through The Calgary Raging Grannies Facebook or website.

Sam Mraiche and his company Mye Canada also skipped out on paying bottle deposit and container recycling fees (over $250k).

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