BJC Healthcare tweaks N95 disinfection, allows return of masks to original users

St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare system developed a process to disinfect N95 respirator masks and return them to their original users for reuse for up to three weeks, an article published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons shows.

BJC HealthCare developed the new process in collaboration with Washington University School of Medicine, also in St. Louis. The disinfection procedure used by the health system was first tested at Durham, N.C.-based Duke University in 2016, but BJC HealthCare added a unique modification — an identification system that ensures sanitized masks are returned to the same individual after each disinfection cycle.

The disinfection part of the process involves healthcare workers removing the N95 masks at the end of their shifts and putting them in a sterilization pouch, where they also write their name or employee ID number, hospital, department and unit location. They then place the pouch in the soiled collection bin. The pouches in the bin are collected and taken to a specially designed and sealed disinfection room, where a hydrogen peroxide vapor generator is used to decontaminate the masks.

After the disinfection procedure, the pouches are returned to their respective units in a decontaminated bin, where workers can find the masks they were wearing previously. The entire process takes about seven hours. Workers can reuse their mask for up to three weeks.

The health system began testing the new process at the end of March at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, which was running low on its N95 mask supply. The process was initially tested in the emergency room and expanded to other departments.

Andrew Pierce, study co-author and director of supply plus at Barnes-Jewish Hospital said that the hospital is disinfecting 240 N95 masks a day.

Authors of the article also said that the process helped increase employee acceptance of reusing the N95 masks.


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