Bill Frist Contributor
I write today to describe an urgent issue that must be addressed by federal leadership in the next 72 hours. In conversations this week with two highly respected leaders representing hospitals in different parts of the country, I received the same vital message: we must organize a national effort to develop personal protective equipment (PPE), which constitutes the protective masks, face shields, gowns, gloves, and other coverings worn to protect health care personnel from contracting infections like the current novel coronavirus.
One of these health system leaders, a chief medical officer in the western United States with extensive experience responding to the past SARS and Ebola outbreaks, described to me the predicament of countless hospitals across the country. With gaps in COVID-19 testing causing patients in hospitals to wait up to five days for results, PPE is being expended by personnel caring for every individual patient waiting for a test result because the assumption must be made that they are COVID-19 positive until proven otherwise.
In fact, the majority are likely not infected and this PPE is being wasted unnecessarily due to the unusually long wait times to receive and complete testing. And with untimely testing causing patients to wait in the hospital, those who could be discharged to home, nursing facilities, and other locations are forced to wait until a negative result is confirmed. Although hospitals have postponed elective surgery to help conserve PPE, this has not been enough for the spike in demand that has been caused in this crisis.
A shortage of PPE will cause our health care workforce to reach a breaking point very soon, forced to make uncomfortable decisions that could include resorting to “bandanas and scarves” to protect themselves as the CDC suggested in a guidance issued this week. These makeshift methods are not the protection that our health care personnel need nor deserve. If they are unable to protect themselves properly, they will begin to experience increased infection that will cause illness and an inability to work safely. This avoidable reduction in staff would further strain hospital capacity and result in more loss of life.
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