Penn State Hershey Med workers told to reuse face masks for 7 days, store in paper bags amid shortage

Harrisburg

HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — As we cover the COVID-19 pandemic at every angle for you, we’re hearing for the first time from a midstate healthcare worker on the front lines of the crisis.

She works at Penn State Health Hershey Medical Center and emailed ABC27 saying masks are being re-used for days on end.

We aren’t naming her at her request, but she says the shortage of equipment is putting employee and patient health at risk.

“I don’t think patients out there that might come into the hospital, that are sick, know that this is what’s going on,” she said. “I don’t think people are aware of the real facts that are going on in our hospitals. The truth needs to be heard, why not from somebody that’s there?”

She says Penn State Health isn’t doing enough to protect employees or patients.

She says workers are re-using masks for seven different working days that are 12 hours long, and are told to store them in a dry paper bag to prevent damage and minimize handling.

Penn State Health confirms that is their policy right now, citing supply chain challenges.

But our worker says, that answer isn’t good enough.

“We have 15 patients as of right now that are positive for this,” she said.

Penn State Health says all clinical staff working in the COVID-19 unit are issued new masks each day and may request a new mask during their shift if needed. But she’s concerned about employees in other parts of the hospital.

“We’ve never been in this situation and I get that, but I should still be safe at my job,” she said.

Andy Carter, with the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, says the shortage will likely only get worse.

“Hospitals are reporting that over the next three to seven days we’re gonna be in a situation where we don’t have enough masks and face shields and the like,” Carter said.

With hospitals in overdrive, Penn State Health is offering face shields to wear over masks for employees with direct patient contact. But our worker is worried about the constant re-using of gear.

“We’re just cross contaminating everything from the previous person,” she said. “Our employers are responsible to keep us safe, while we’re doing the work that we’re doing and it’s not safe.”

Penn State Health released a statement to ABC27 explaining their personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage:

The safety of Penn State Health staff and the patients we care for is our highest priority. Earlier this week, Penn State Health began providing Level One masks – so-called ear loop masks – to all employees and requiring their use for all employees working in Penn State Health facilities. Our approach is similar to that of other health care peers across the country who are facing many of the same supply chain challenges. As an added measure of protection, employees who work in clinical areas with direct patient interaction may request a face shield, which staff can choose to wear over their mandatory Level One mask. Those face shields, which are being produced by a local company, were developed through a collaboration between researchers at Penn State College of Medicine’s Center for Medical Innovation and Surgical Innovation Group.

Even as we provide this necessary protection, the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched thin the national inventory of masks and other personal protective equipment. This means we must effectively manage our inventory of all critical medical supplies during this unprecedented health crisis. Penn State Health has set aside millions of additional dollars to purchase such supplies, and we continue to develop longer term plans to help secure them. But the uncertainty around the availability of supplies means there are no guarantees.

As we balance the need to protect staff and patients with the need to face a growing national shortage, we are asking staff to reuse masks for seven days and preserve them by keeping them stored in a dry paper bag and minimizing handling to prevent damage. Likewise, staff are being given guidance to ensure they wear and store masks properly to extend the mask’s acceptable lifespan. We continue to reinforce for employees the equal importance of vigilant hand hygiene and other best practices that, together, provide them and their patients the best level of protection in a situation like this.

Our supply chain challenges are real – but our continued commitment to protecting the entire Penn State Health community is unwavering – and we will continue to re-evaluate our PPE practices as our supply situation changes.

Scott Gilbert | Media Relations, Penn State Health

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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