Hospital staffs turning to handmade protective gear amid coronavirus shortages

Staff at Providence St. Joseph Health in Renton, Wash., have been making protective medical gear out of office supplies to deal with a shortage of equipment, Bloomberg reported. 

Becca Bartles, executive director of infection prevention for the health system, told Bloomberg the system is "probably a couple days away" from running out of face masks. 

To protect medical staff until they can get more supplies, the health system's infection control and quality experts have designed prototype face shields using supplies such as marine-grade vinyl, industrial tape, foam and elastic. 

They've had to buy supplies at craft stores and Home Depot, workers told Bloomberg

On March 17, about 20 staff members volunteered to work an assembly line to make 500 protective face masks. 

Supply chain experts should have seen the shortage coming, Jennifer Bayersdorfer, senior vice president for clinical quality at Providence, told Bloomberg

"I think that they’re behind the eight-ball on this, and there was plenty of warning that this was going to a problem," she said.

Some physicians have taken N95 masks home to wash them with bleach so they can reuse them. 

The shortage of protective gear has prompted some medical groups to ask the federal government to make its full reserve of medical supplies available, contained in the Strategic National Stockpile that is controlled by HHS. 

However, the stockpile doesn't have nearly as much equipment as is needed, Bloomberg reported. The H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009 depleted the stockpile of about three-quarters of its inventory, and the government hasn't rebuilt the supply. 

The stockpile received about $600 million per year from Congress, and that money has to be stretched to cover medicine and supplies for anything from potential anthrax attacks to flu outbreaks to natural disasters, according to Bloomberg

"What we really need is for industry to be on a wartime footing, where factories are required to start churning out this critical equipment," Ari Robicsek, Providence's chief medical analytics officer, told Bloomberg

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