The widespread professional protection equipment (PPE) shortage in health facilities has been among the most persistent challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic. From basic hand sanitizer to N95 respirator masks, the equipment needed to stall the spread of a highly infectious disease is in short supply exactly when it’s needed the most.
Through a combination of luck, circumstance and a bit of smart business continuity planning, some facilities are doing better than others. But even the best planning can’t change the fact that global supply chains for PPE and other essential products have broken down. New equipment simply isn’t being created quickly enough to meet the sudden, enormous demand.
Even with a number of private companies shifting their production to PPE, demand is so high that some states have found themselves bidding against one another (and sometimes, FEMA) to secure the supply they need. Others have gotten creative, sharing resources in innovative ways to ease the pain of shortages that everyone is enduring.
4 Tips for Dealing with the Health PPE Shortage
While there’s no single, proven method for preventing a PPE shortage, there are a few ways to prepare for the inevitable. Some obvious (but painful) steps have already been implemented on a nationwide basis to concentrate all available resources towards the crisis at hand, such as the cancellation of nonessential surgeries and elective procedures.
Other methods, like limiting hospital visitors, have obvious drawbacks, and are seen as last resorts. And some of the more innovative solutions — like having your neurology department use 3D printers to create reusable masks — may not be available to your specific location.
What, then, are the best ways for a normal facility to deal with a health PPE shortage?
1. Look to the CDC.
First and foremost, make sure that you and your team are fully up to date on current PPE guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because of the COVID-19 crisis and the ongoing PPE shortage, the CDC has adjusted its policies to best optimize supply. You can find the CDC’s latest recommendations here.
(Yes, we know it can be difficult — and a bit confusing — to keep up with the CDC’s many updates on mask use and other policies. But it’s worth doing so, and just a matter of tasking a team member with checking the website twice a day.)
2.Encourage clinician resourcefulness.
We know — it’s hard to ask those who are giving so much during a difficult time to give even more. But that’s the situation that faces us. Nurses and clinicians on the front line, delivering care around the clock, can help alleviate the PPE shortage by taking extra steps to sanitize and reuse gloves and masks in the absence of a ready supply.
The CDC itself has issued guidance for workers to make their own masks and shields out of household items. “Caution should be exercised when considering this option,” it adds, making it a last-resort option.
3. Assign the right person to the right job.
Part of managing a PPE shortage is to make sure you’re putting the resources you have to the best possible use, and that means human as well as protective resources! If some your team members are more comfortable and efficient with the kind of direct patient interaction that more urgently require PPE, it’s easy enough to arrange the use of that equipment accordingly.
“All nurses have knowledge of infection prevention, but not all nurses are comfortable placing an IV,” as Lynne Nichols writes in her speculation on how COVID-19 may affect nursing published by the Bangor Daily News. By matching nurses with their skillsets, you can ensure that scarce PPE is being put to its best possible use.
The benefits of this technique don’t end there, either. As Nichols points out, encouraging this kind of communication of their preferences and skillsets also helps nurses “feel more confident in volunteering” for certain duties, resulting in more enthusiastic participants than those simply “placed into a setting simply to have another body on the front lines.”
4. Turn to community involvement.
When all else fails, community outreach may generate unknown resources. Private companies have already been called upon by the federal government to donate masks and supplies. What many corporations and household names have done voluntarily may be achieved from local industry that may have unused protective gear stored away.
If you have a relationship with a local school or university, team up for a fund drive or donation station to either get the supplies you need — residential stockpiles of medical gear are not unheard of — or buy new ones. If you haven’t already, reach out to civic organizations or the city council to see what other resources or opportunities for community engagement may exist.
Facing the Future with a Managed Services Partner
Has your facility experienced a PPE shortage? While there’s no guaranteed solution to a crisis as large and as unique as COVID-19, there are ways of dealing with disruption and uncertainty that can help mitigate the damage. One method is partnering with a healthcare managed services provider (MSP) for access to a nationwide network of resources and specialists.
By providing for the entire spectrum of workforce management, MSPs can help connect you with larger supply networks that may extend beyond your current resources, as well as greater administrative efficiencies than you may be able to achieve in-house. For more info on whether a MSP may be the right staffing strategy for your facility, please contact us here.