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Swiss care homes and hospitals charged for mouldy masks

Expired, foul-smelling masks cost nearly a franc apiece for facilities in canton Bern at the start of the coronavirus crisis.

As a healthcare worker told Swiss public radio, SRF, on Monday, some of the masks they had received earlier this year had to be recalled because they were covered in mildew. However, the care home was still expected to pay the Bernese cantonal health authority CHF0.90 ($0.98) apiece for any masks that they had used – even the free ones supplied by the military.

Some of the masks had expired in 2007, the healthcare worker reported, adding that they stank. The masks had come from a stockpile maintained by the Swiss army, which distributed them to the nation’s 26 cantons for free in March in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Splitting costs

“Because hospitals and care homes didn’t have enough emergency supplies, the army and the canton stepped in. We had to buy masks at the (then) world market price of over one franc each,” Gundekar Giebel, head of communications at Bern’s cantonal health department, told SRF. The CHF0.90 price reflects the average cost of those masks and the free ones from the army.

Giebel justified the cost on account of the amount of public funds spent. “The hospitals and homes could have purchased protective material on the world market themselves,” he noted.

Bern-based nursing home association Curaviva told SRF that its homes are well prepared and have experience dealing with communicable diseases – but that the coronavirus pandemic has meant a sharp rise in the need for supplies when worldwide demand is huge.