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Island distillery sends hand sanitizer to hospitals

VANCOUVER — Health care staff at Vancouver General Hospital are grateful for their new supply of hand sanitizer, even though it smells more like a cocktail lounge than an operating room.
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Dr. Neil Ramsay, anesthesiologist at Vancouver General Hospital, and Chris Nelson, owner of Pacific Sands in Tofino, at the hospital's emergency extrance.

VANCOUVER — Health care staff at Vancouver General Hospital are grateful for their new supply of hand sanitizer, even though it smells more like a cocktail lounge than an operating room.

“When it first arrived, I saw people sniffing their hands and laughing. It smells like whiskey,” anesthesiologist Dr. Neil Ramsay joked.

“We have to tell our patients we haven’t had a morning drink. It is just the hand sanitizer.”

The donation of 2,000 litres of hand sanitizer came from Shelter Point Distillery in Campbell River, which has pivoted from its usual production of fine whiskey to making this crucial hygiene product for some front-line organizations.

Ramsay said this is one of several examples he has seen during the COVID-19 pandemic of local companies offering products or materials to aid the health-care system.

“All these businesses are losing so much money. Despite that they want to help,” he said.

Ramsay sits on a Vancouver General Hospital committee that monitors supplies during the pandemic, and learned from their distributor that hand sanitizer stocks were low. He began to worry in mid-March that the hospital could run out.

“We use hand sanitizer a lot, and our use for that was going up rapidly,” he said.

He contacted his friend Chris Nelson, the owner of Pacific Sands Beach Resort in Tofino, an investor in Shelter Point. Within 48 hours, the hand sanitizer was delivered by the distillery to the Vancouver hospital.

“It was phenomenal,” Ramsay said.

The distillery has paused making spirits, and Nelson and his wife, who live in Vancouver, donated $25,000 in March so it could instead produce hand sanitizer, which has now been donated to Victoria General Hospital, the Salvation Army in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and Vancouver General Hospital.

“We’d like to be producing spirits, but are trying to do our part given the moment we are all in,” said Nelson.

Many British Columbia residents and businesses have stepped up to help in a variety of ways during this pandemic.

Burnaby-based Mustang Survival, which normally manufactures high-performance marine survival gear, is now helping to produce 90,000 reusable isolation gowns for medical workers.

Mustang has also developed a “hood” for doctors like Ramsay, who must intubate — insert a breathing tube into — COVID-19 patients, a complex medical procedure that often leaves them covered in spittle that carries the contagious virus. Face masks and goggles keep the spittle off doctors’ faces, but their exposed necks would get covered.

After reading about health-care workers in Italy getting infected, Ramsay asked Mustang if they could build a hood that is breathable, water-resistant and easy to remove without spreading droplets A prototype by Mustang has been approved, and Ramsay hopes 100 of the hoods will soon arrive at Vancouver General Hospital.

Lori Culbert

Vancouver Sun