- Headlines and news stories of shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been all too common throughout the pandemic.
- Responses have been varied on the national, state and local levels but all can agree that protecting caregivers is of the highest priority for hospital and health system leaders.
- Pete Gaynor, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told Congress July 22 the country has “a ways to go” on getting enough PPE to healthcare workers.
Headlines and news stories of shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been all too common throughout the pandemic. Responses have been varied on the national, state and local levels but all can agree that protecting caregivers is of the highest priority for hospital and health system leaders.
Frustration is one of words we hear a lot, whether it is from health leaders about not having enough PPE, or clinicians about the changing types of PPE or just the general frustration of how the pandemic has upset our daily lives.
During an interview before Congress July 22, Pete Gaynor, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told Congress the country has “a ways to go” on getting enough protective equipment for health workers fighting coronavirus, though he said the situation has been improving. “This is not as simple as just throwing a light switch and we just magically make more,” Gaynor said.
The testimony touched on some key areas of focus and concern:
- Although the situation is improving, there is still not enough PPE for health workers fighting coronavirus.
- Hospitals and doctors have been reporting shortages of masks, gowns and other equipment.
- Hospitals should work with state emergency response officials and FEMA to acquire more PPE if their normal suppliers can’t fulfill needs.
- The United States does not make enough PPE currently and is reliant on other countries.
- Improvements in the U.S. industrial base are needed so the U.S. is less reliant on global competitors.
Although the administration has been making headway by incrementally implementing the Defense Production Act and partnering with manufacturer 3M for increased mask production, those steps alone will not generate the amount of PPE needed, especially with spikes of cases being seen throughout the country. Let’s not let frustration get in the way and remain focused on our mission.
Having enough PPE during a pandemic takes much more than just increasing the inventory line item of the balance sheet, adjusting par levels within the storeroom, placing a few phone calls to key partners and increasing the supply budget.
The shortage of PPE, just like many of the challenges organizations have faced during the pandemic, calls for increased collaboration, communication and creativity by hospital and health system leaders. A few considerations for healthcare executives:
- Continue open lines of communication with your clinical teams about PPE availability, sourcing and usage as well as vet new PPE sources through trusted industry partners.
- Consider collaborating with local and regional manufacturers to create grassroots efforts to produce PPE to limit micro-shortages by working with your community development agencies to repurpose existing manufacturing industry to assist in large scale production.
- Get creative by teaming up with university researchers and programs to leverage not only their professional knowledge but their innovation programs and reach into the manufacturing industries to create additional PPE like was done at Purdue University in a partnership with 3M.
- Collaborate with national organizations on standardization of supplies and sources to ensure there is coordination and not competition between organizations for needed PPE. Throughout the pandemic there have been many instances where organizations and states are competing with each other instead of collaborating, further damaging the pipeline and jeopardizing overall supply.
- Create a plan and advocate for ensuring adequate supplies are stockpiled on a local, regional and national basis to ensure needs are being met during emergency shortages of necessary drugs and supplies.
Although all of these are important strategies, when the central issue is not having enough supply anywhere, we must think creatively about ways to create additional supplies through collaborative efforts, as well as advocate for changes within our national process and plans to ensure there is enough to meet the demand during a surge.
I like to consider myself an eternal optimist, and I do believe things will get better. However, we still have a ways to go before they do and we need to ensure that we are not only dealing with the crisis happening today but we are also planning for what will most likely happen in the future by creating a safe and stable supply chain for decades to come.