Topic: Smallest health providers face biggest problem finding protective gear amid coronavirus surge
As the coronavirus rages across the country, community health centers and small doctors’ offices, AIDS clinics and homeless shelters are struggling with a scarcity of protective gear to buffer workers from harm, their budgets and buying power unable to compete with large medical institutions.
Most U.S. hospitals and health systems have, over the pandemic’s nine months, stitched together systems and improvisations to acquire masks, gowns, gloves and other personal protective equipment. Yet many small health-care and social-service settings continue to suffer from shortages they expect to grow worse.
A New Orleans mission for the homeless and addicted finally gave up searching for masks after an offer from a local sports team fizzled, so its staff members rely on disinfecting throughout the day. To conserve gowns, a Boston health center requires nurses to stand without them on the opposite side of plexiglass barriers from most patients who come for coronavirus tests, instructing people how to swab their own noses. And a pediatrician near Fredericksburg, Va., was thrilled when her husband spotted N95 masks at a nearby Lowe’s, because her office manager was unable to get more than a list of where to look for supplies from the state.
The scrounging and adapting to scarcity attest to a two-tier reality that has emerged in health workers’ ability to obtain the equipment that provides a physical barrier against the virus that has sickened more than 12 million people in the United States and killed at least 255,000.
“No one is talking about this huge inequity of availability,” said Megan Ranney, a Providence, R.I., emergency room doctor and Brown University researcher who in March co-founded with several other worried physicians Get Us PPE, a group that collects and distributes donated supplies.
Since it started, Get Us PPE has fulfilled 12 percent of the requests it has received — a percentage dropping lately as the pandemic intensifies and the eagerness for protective equipment increasingly outstrips donations. Yet requests from hospitals have declined from the thousands in April to fewer than 100 per month more recently, the group’s information shows.
This disparity — with small facilities facing PPE shortages to a greater extent than larger ones — has not been recognized in federal officials’ recent statements about masks, gloves, goggles and gowns to protect workers especially vulnerable to infection.
Topic Discussed: Smallest health providers face biggest problem finding protective gear amid coronavirus surge