The Finnish Union of Practical Nurses (SuPer) says that workers at a Tampere care home that has seen 13 people die of coronavirus since December were not provided with sufficient protective equipment.
SuPer blames the City of Tampere, which owns Tampere's Rauhaniemi hospital for senior citizens, and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), which sets out guidance for protective masks in care settings.
The coronavirus outbreak at the facility began in early December after staff were ordered back to work before their exposure-related quarantines were completed. It has now claimed the life of a 13th patient.
A total of 112 infections have been diagnosed in patients and staff at the care home.
SuPer expert Eija Kemppainen told Yle she was very surprised to learn that the employer had said all possible measures to prevent the spread of the virus had been taken.
"I didn't believe this so I went to find out. According to the information I received from the employees, there have been a lot of shortcomings there," Kemppainen said, citing as one example the difficulties care workers have had in sourcing usable masks.
"We have been told that FFP respirators are few and far between," she said.
In a blog post on the union’s website, Kemppainen wrote of the need for workers in care homes to be supplied with the same protective devices as staff in hospitals.
"Elderly care units treating coronavirus patients must be allowed to use personal protective equipment similar to that used on hospital wards. The use of surgical respirators in the treatment of coronavirus patients is not sufficient and a suitable FFP respirator is required," Kemppainen wrote.
Employer refutes claims
The City of Tampere's deputy chief administrative officer Lauri Seinelä denied the allegations made by the union, saying staff have been supplied with the correct equipment in line with official guidelines.
"The care workers have protective equipment according to the guidelines, which are used in the treatment of coronavirus patients in special medical care and in Rauhaniemi," Seinelä said.
Sirpa Räsänen, at epidemiologist at the municipality of Tampere, told Yle that FFP protection is only required in certain situations.
Räsänen added that the situation at Rauhaniemi has been discussed with the hospital district.
"We have concluded in discussions with infectious disease doctors that the use of FFP protectors will not solve that situation," Räsänen said.
Fear among staff
SuPer's Kemppainen said members of the union employed at the facility had written to the organisation about their concerns.
"The staff are afraid and they are upset,” Kemppainen said.
In response, Seinelä said the fear is understandable because a lot of members of staff have become infected, but added that someone has to take care of the patients.
"According to the feedback I received, some of the staff have also been satisfied with their work. The situation is, of course, physically and mentally difficult," she added.
However, according to Kemppainen, the crux of the problem lies with THL's instructions, which states that a surgical mouthguard is sufficient even for the treatment of a coronavirus-positive patient.
Yle has asked THL for a comment on this guideline, but has not yet received a response.
Kemppainen also criticised the decision to call staff back to work before exposure-related quarantines were completed. The City of Tampere said this decision was made because not enough workers were available to treat the patients at the hospice.