Resourceful PPE strategies bridged the gap, now hospitals seek sustainable solutions

Published: 06/01/2020 - 14:10
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Practice Greenhealth member Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington, was among the first hospitals to receive and treat COVID-19 patients.

They used more personal protective equipment (PPE) in two months in early 2020 than their entire 51-hospital system used the previous year.

The realization that there would not be enough PPE if standard infection prevention policies and isolation procedures were followed meant something had to change, and quickly. 

As supplies of high-filtration masks dwindled, CDC and FDA provided guidance to hospitals on how employees could reuse “single-use”/disposable PPE. Extended use of PPE meant an abrupt change in practice from using one set of PPE (N95 mask, face shield/eye protection, isolation gown/jumpsuit, gloves, cap, shoe covers) per patient encounter, to one set of PPE per shift, week, or even month. 

Designated COVID-19 treatment facilities and areas within facilities with physical separation barriers were created, and other facility adaptations (such as designated intubation/extubation rooms and ventilators and IV pumps outside of patient ICU rooms) have greatly reduced the number of health care personnel needing full sets of PPE. Across the country, hospitals have been innovative and resourceful, many of them accepting PPE made by community members and organizations.

Practice Greenhealth member University of Florida Health developed prototypes of face masks made from plentiful sterilization wrap that would otherwise be thrown out. 

These modifications in practice have been short-term responses to the pandemic. Hospitals are beginning to seek long-term solutions, such as reusable PPE to strengthen their inventory position during times of uncertain product availability. 

According to the American Reusable Textile Association, instead of being thrown out after each patient encounter, reusable isolation gowns can be washed, sterilized, and reused 75 to 100 times.

Recent research also indicates additional environmental and financial benefits of reusable textiles:

  • 64% reduction in natural resource energy consumption

  • 66% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

  • 83% reduction in water consumption 

  • 84-87% reduction in a hospital’s solid waste generation 

The pandemic has revealed vulnerabilities in hospital reliance and pre-pandemic utilization of  disposable PPE. Modifications in practice, infrastructure, and reusable PPE offer options to strengthen supply inventories and the ability of hospitals to respond to current and future public health threats. 

Visit Practice Greenhealth’s COVID-19 webpage for a compilation of trusted resources for hospitals. 

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