Local hospitals get creative to combat PPE shortage

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — Nine months after the coronavirus pandemic began, there can still be a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). That’s forcing hospitals to get creative to make sure they have the necessary equipment to protect providers and treat patients.

Denver Health Medical Center, like many hospitals, battled the supply shortages of masks, gowns and more as soon as the pandemic began. In the past, the hospital had occasional shortages of some equipment.

“What we never anticipated was a whole series of items going into backorder at the same time,” said Stewart Layhe, the hospital’s supply chain director.

One of those items was sanitizing wipes. At one point, the hospital was down to just a one day’s supply.

“We were losing sleep the third week of March that we would not have enough of these to last for the week,” Layhe said of the wipes.

That’s when he and Andrew J. Miller, the hospital’s supply chain project manager, searched all over the world and were able to buy containers of wipes. Plus, they bought wipes, solution and containers separately and were able to piecemeal together a back-up supply.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Miller said. “We’ve gone far enough to continue to try to source aggressively those things that are our standard. But we have built back-up stock or alternates.”

Before the pandemic began, Denver Health would use about 7,700 disposable fluid-resistant gowns every week. Healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients change theirs frequently. At one point, the hospital staff was wearing 3,000 gowns every day and was running out.

That’s when ImageFIRST, a company with two branches in Colorado, started manufacturing a gown that can be cleaned and reused up to 100 times.

Plus, some providers are wearing reusable respirators instead of N95 masks, which are still in short supply. To help, 3M is now making 100 million N95 masks every month, more than four times as many as it produced pre-COVID.

“Quite honestly, we wouldn’t be able to provide patient care if we’re not able to protect our health care workers,” said Dr. Heather Young, a Denver Health infectious disease expert. “That’s the simple truth of it. Because we can’t ask health care workers go into a room unprotected.”

Denver Health has never ran out of PPE and with the changes it has made, doctors hope it never will.

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