Personal protective equipment — or PPE — for health care workers combating COVID-19 is in short supply.
Despite a run on this type of gear, doctors and nurses have to move forward with treatment.
In-demand items include head covers, gloves, and maybe the most sought-after piece of PPE – N95 respirator face masks.
Dr. Jim Cardon, Hartford HealthCare’s chief clinical integration officer, told reporters at a Monday news conference that the hospital network’s supply of this type of mask is currently in “good shape,” and that there wasn’t yet a need to ration the N95s by way of re-use.
“We don’t do that unless we are convinced it’s safe to do so,” Cardon said. “If we have confidence that we can reuse these things with the same effectiveness as the approved use of these things, we will need to consider that, but at this time, we have not put that in our execution plan at the moment.”
But John Brady, the executive vice president of AFT Connecticut, said he’s hearing different reports from hospital workers in his union.
He said some Hartford HealthCare providers are using masks according to “crisis-level” guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control — which include wearing them for more than one visit. Others are forced to see patients who might have COVID-19 wearing surgical masks that are less protective.
“In Danbury Hospital, we’re using the N95s exclusively – for anybody who has the symptoms – any possible patient, but in other hospitals like Backus Hospital on the other end of the state, we’re only using the N95s for the positive COVID patients,” Brady said.
A staff member at Backus hospital in Norwich reported being instructed to use an N95 mask five times before disposing of it. That was reported in an email sent to Congressman Joe Courtney and obtained by Connecticut Public Radio.
Brady’s worried about the safety of the providers – that the rationing of masks will lead to exposure.
“I think it’s a matter of time,” he said.
Some members, according to Brady, are already in quarantine after seeing COVID-19 patients and are awaiting a test to see if they are sick or they can go back to work.
“They worry about contracting COVID and they worry about bringing that home to their families and they worry about passing that to the other patients they care for,” he said.
A Hartford Healthcare spokesperson reiterated the network has a decent supply, but that it would keep revewing its policies in a time of uncertainty.
“Because we can’t necessarily predict what’s coming down the road, we must be thoughtful and keep all options open,” said Tina Varona, Hartford Healthcare’s media relations manager, in an email to Connecticut Public Radio.
She said donations are part of the planning process. The network has asked suppliers to donate personal protective equipment – including N95 masks – should they have extra.
The state is also collecting personal protective equipment. The governor’s office asks state residents, businesses, and philanthropic organizations to fill-out a form online at www.211ct.org/DonationsCOVID19.
This story was first published March 24, 2020, by Connecticut Public Radio.