Mask fit testing important part of pandemic planning

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The emergence of the Influenza A H1N1 virus has triggered a beehive of activity at each Ontario hospital around pandemic planning. With each pandemic plan comes a big to-do list – communication, education, screening, inventory checks, and much more.

But perhaps one of the most involved action items on any pandemic plan is mask-fit testing. The use of masks at health-care facilities during heightened stages of a pandemic is no doubt an effective infection control method, but studies document that proper fit testing enhances the effectiveness of masks.

 But ensuring every employee is up to date for mask-fit testing when your hospital has hundreds or thousands on the payroll can be an onerous task and place great pressures on occupational health staff.

Toronto’s West Park Healthcare Centre has employed a novel way to ensure all staff are mask-fit tested in short order. Its occupational health and safety staff teamed up with the hospital’s revenue-generating division known as Pro Active Healthcare – a wellness and rehabilitation clinic located within the hospital – to rapidly mask fit test hundreds of employees. Normally a provider of personalized therapy including acupuncture, chiropractic, chiropody, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, Pro Active expanded its mask-fit testing services for the Centre and is now offering similar service to hospitals across the province. As a result Pro Active has performed approximately 550 mask fit tests at West Park over the last four months to ensure all staff were properly fitted – no small feat considering staff schedules and the time it takes to conduct each test (15 minutes).

“Pro Active worked quickly and diligently to assist us to meet the requirements and establish an effective ‘testing’ environment,” says Donna Renzetti, West Park Vice President, Programs. “Working collaboratively allowed us to establish what needed to be done quickly and effectively – namely processes and a database to track compliance and meet the requirements.”

For occupational health and safety staff, the partnership with Pro Active on mask-fit testing had a huge impact. “The partnership helped us to streamline the process and establish a database to keep abreast of the current mask-fit status of staff and physicians. This will assist us to ensure that we have the required data when it is needed,” says Peggy Craig, Manager of Occupational Health and Safety at West Park. “Monthly mask-fit test status reports keep the issue at the forefront.”

Pro Active uses quantitative mask testing – which determines the fit of a mask with a particle counting device that measures the concentration of microscopic particles that exist in ambient air. The measurement is made while the person performs dynamic movements and/or breathing exercises resembling those experienced in the workplace in order to stress the respirator seal. Results are immediate and deliver either a ‘pass’ or ‘fail.’ 

Word of Pro Active’s successful partnership with West Park’s occupational health and safety department spread fast, prompting other health-care facilities and organizations to call Pro Active about setting up mask fit testing for their own organizations.

“Through this collaboration we have established an effective way to provide testing for high volumes and track employee testing data so any organization is always on top of this important issue,” says Dave Ursomarzo, Manager of Pro-Active Healthcare.

Thanks to the collaboration between Pro Active and occupational health and safety, West Park Healthcare Centre is on top of mask-fit testing, helping to fulfill its ongoing commitment to patient safety and a healthy workplace.