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Answering the Need for Personal Protective Equipment

ByPriya Bathija|May 14, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team will be interviewing experts from across the ecosystem to bring the HLTH community timely facts and updates.

Each day hundreds of thousands of courageous and selfless health care workers – including doctors, nurses, cafeteria support, environmental services, administrative and support staff – step into gowns, pull on gloves and adjust masks over their faces as they prepare for another grueling round with COVID-19. This personal protective equipment (PPE) is their best line of defense against the virus; yet, it is in short supply across the United States and the world.  

There are many reasons for this. For example, our supply is limited. Much of our PPE is made in China – including respirators, masks, gloves, disposable gowns and goggles – and they are only now ramping back up production following the COVID-19 outbreak in that country. Many hospitals also have had a hard time securing PPE due to supply chain challenges and competition with other organizations that are also working to procure PPE.

And, our demands are high. Due to testing limitations, hospital staff need to wear full protective gear and treat each patient as if they have COVID-19. In addition, the number of COVID-19 cases across the country continues to rise. Both result in the need for extraordinary amounts of PPE. 

This is playing out at hospitals around the country. New York-Presbyterian Hospital estimated in March that while they normally use 4,000 non-N95 masks a day, they were consuming 40,000 of those masks each day and that number would reach 70,000 as they hit their peak. One hospital leader that responded to the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s National Pulse Survey shared that before COVID-19, the hospital normally used around 200 masks per day; that number jumped to 2,000 by late March. 

More than three months into the pandemic, supply simply cannot keep up with demand. And, while hospitals are working to protect health care workers on the front line of COVID-19, the reality is that many health care providers and organizations still lack sufficient supplies of professional, medical-grade PPE. 

The PPE picture is not all grim, however. Many of its most pressing issues are being addressed directly right now, and the AHA has been working with Congress and the Administration to secure more PPE and the funding and private sector support to ramp up production and get the right supplies in the field.

AHA is supplementing this effort with the 100 Million Mask Challenge. Originally launched by Providence, in Washington state, the Challenge now calls on manufacturers, the business community and individuals nationwide to coordinate their efforts to rapidly produce PPE on the large scale needed by our nation’s caregivers. 

Since scaling this initiative nationwide, over 200,000 visitors have visited AHA’s expanded website, many of which have been manufacturers downloading specifications to make masks, face shields and gowns that will allow them to produce PPE quickly and effectively. 

We’ve been so inspired by those that have stepped up and joined forces to ensure our front line health care workers have the PPE they need. For example, in Idaho, Boise State University is using its 3D printer to assemble face shields for local hospitals. 

Schools in Oklahoma City have donated surplus medical supplies, like hand sanitizer, masks and disinfecting wipes to nursing homes and hospitals. Cycling manufacturers and a number of clothing retailers are also producing PPE to protect our health care work force. We recently even received close to $200,000 in contributions from the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum due to strong sales of their Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx bobbleheads. 

Individuals are pitching in, too, such as a 7 year-old Missouri boy, the son of a nurse, using a 3D printer to make hundreds of adjustable head bands that hold protective masks in place more securely. From every corner of society, people are demonstrating a desire to help keep our health care workforce safe.

As AHA grows the 100 Million Mask Challenge, we are developing new ways to make sure PPE gets to where it is needed. In recent weeks, we launched HealthEquip, an app that matches those wanting to donate PPE with hospitals that need it most. We also continue to help hospitals navigate the PPE challenges by vetting non-traditional suppliers offering PPE. 

The challenge of full PPE protection for all of our courageous front line COVID-19 responders will not be solved overnight. But Americans are focused on this as never before, and when our nation sets a goal as urgent and necessary as this one is, you can bet we will achieve it.  

About Priya Bathija:

Priya Bathija is vice president, Strategic Initiatives at the American Hospital Association. In this role, she leads the AHA’s efforts to guide hospitals and health systems as they promote affordability by improving quality and decreasing cost. In addition, she leads the organization’s work on maternal and child health, social determinants, and its exploration of innovative delivery and payment system reforms that will allow vulnerable urban and rural communities to ensure access to essential health care services. 

Formerly, Ms. Bathija served as the AHA’s point person for inpatient payment and rural hospital issues and as the AHA’s liaison to MedPAC. Prior to joining the AHA, she practiced health care law and served as hospital counsel for MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., and associate general counsel at ProMedica Health System in Toledo, Ohio.

For more information on the 100 Million Mask Challenge, please visit 100MillionMasks.org or email 100MillionMasks@aha.org