Bay Area hospitals conserve personal protective equipment to prepare for possible surge in COVID-19 cases

Sunny Shen/Senior Staff

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Hospitals in the Bay Area are conserving personal protective equipment, or PPE, to protect against a lack of resources in the event of a future surge in COVID-19 cases.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a national shortage of PPE. The supply of N95 masks has been especially uncertain, according to a statement from UCSF. In order to conserve supplies, UCSF Health and other hospitals are following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the proper reuse and extended use of N95 masks.

“PPE supply chains remain unstable, but we have been able to build up our overall supplies to a sufficient level that we can support all of our valued care providers and also accommodate a potential surge in COVID-19 patients,” said Dr. Joshua Adler, executive vice president of UCSF Health Physician Services, in the statement.

UCSF Health, Kaiser Permanente and John Muir Health have all stressed that the safety of patients, nurses, physicians and clinical and support staff is their highest priority. John Muir Health spokesperson Ben Drew said his facility is not withholding supplies from anyone who needs it.

Kaiser Permanente said in a statement that it is taking “aggressive and proactive action” to ensure caregivers have adequate protective equipment for the possible increase in care needs.

According to UCSF spokesperson Kristen Bole, UCSF is reserving some expired supplies that it has received for “emergency purposes.” She added that UCSF currently has many weeks’ worth of supplies and is sharing them with other facilities experiencing shortages.

Mawata Kamara, a registered nurse at San Leandro Hospital, alleged that nurses have to “cut corners” to meet current exacerbated health care needs and that getting supplies to protect themselves is still a lengthy process.

“In the middle of the pandemic, there should be a simpler process to get these supplies. Not having the supplies makes all of us unsafe,” Kamara said. “It defeats the whole purpose of people staying at home, of everything else people are doing outside of the hospital, because at the end of the day, nurses come from the communities we live in.”

Nurses rush in and out of rooms to provide care to patients. According to Kamara, as a result, nurses hurry to reapply masks and other protective equipment, making it “very unrealistic” that they are able to do so appropriately and without contaminating themselves.

At San Leandro Hospital, supplies are held in a manager’s office off-unit, according to Kamara. She alleged that she is sometimes forced to choose between helping a patient with a dropping heart rate or waiting for someone to return with more supplies.

“PPE is our first line of defense. Everyone else has the option to stay home. We don’t. We have to face it head-on,” Kamara said. “The problem is very simple. Bring the supplies to our unit so we can use it.”

Contact Maria Young at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.