20 minutes – Hospitals fight mask theft


Fear can cause humans to do things that they would not do in other circumstances. Like hiding masks in hospitals. Before the arrival of the coronavirus in Switzerland, this material was not subject to particular surveillance. In fact, most of the time, they were left on self-service, for nursing staff or patients with flu-like symptoms.

But, at the first signs of a pandemic and the fear of a shortage, this protective material began to disappear in large quantities, both surgical masks and those with high filtering power (ffp2). At the beginning of March, stocks ran out faster than the previous weeks, accounting for around 30% more consumption. Cardboard boxes were sometimes emptied in a few minutes, explains Nicolas de Saussure, spokesperson for the Geneva University Hospitals.

The same phenomenon occurred at the Riviera-Chablais Hospital, confirms Sandra Blank, general secretary: We noted a significant decrease in the stocks of masks and hydroalcoholic solution. It is possible that this was theft, committed either by staff or by visitors. Indeed, if the first reflex of hospitals was to remove the boxes available to patients, it is clear that this was not enough. The caregivers themselves used too often, and not necessarily only for professional use.

Wanting to protect loved ones is human

It is ultimately quite human, comments Jeannette Portmann, spokesperson for the Friborg Hospital. Caregivers, even more than others, would do everything to protect their loved ones. Thus, some gave masks to their elderly parents, or wore them at home after their working day.

Sometimes the disappearances were not thefts. The masks were, as a precaution, moved from unusual places. At the start of the pandemic, some services probably stocked masks directly on their floor, suggests Joakim Faiss, spokesperson for the Valais Hospital.

Sometimes drastic control measures

Other measures have therefore been taken: reduction in the number of people authorized to order masks, recall of good practices, locked up or even outright excavations. A security officer controls the bags of personnel at the exit and we note that the disappearances of equipment have stopped, notes Sandra Blank, from the Hospital Riviera-Chablais.

But of course, all this would not be necessary, if the structures were not confronted with a fear of stock shortage. Like all hospitals, we suffer from a certain shortage, which is not yet critical. However, the availability of masks remains low and we invite our staff to use them sparingly when they are not essential, summarizes Joakim Faiss, from the Valais Hospital.


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