Protecting Employees from Infection
Over the past few decades, the supply chain for PPE had become globalized, based on considerations of price and efficiency.
The great majority of protective gloves, masks, and gowns were made in China, the epicenter of the pandemic. These sources closed down suddenly early in the year, leaving organizations to scramble for alternatives.
The Supply Chain team expanded by a factor of three to over two dozen individuals who were working phones day and night. They chased down leads from unknown vendors. They were outbid at the last minute on dozens of occasions. The guidance favoring high filtration N95 masks for direct care of COVID-19 patients or for any procedures generating aerosols led to the evaluation of similarly designed KN95 masks from Asia. It also led to explorations of approaches to sterilize and reuse masks under certain circumstances.
Some local manufacturers pitched in, voluntarily retooling their production facilities to make masks, gowns and viral sampling devices. BH leaders worked with Massachusetts companies, Boyd Technologies from Lee for masks, Sanderson MacLeod from Palmer for viral swabs, and Smith & Wesson® from Springfield for protective eyewear and face shields. This was in addition to donations of over 350,000 pieces of PPE coordinated by the Western Mass Economic Development Council and the Baystate Health Foundation (BHF).
The most dramatic and high-profile saga in the struggle for PPE came on April 6, in which a team from BH traveled out of state to follow up on a proposed $3M deal for 500,000 pieces each of KN95 respirators and standard surgical masks. A standoff by Chief Physician Executive Dr. Andrew Artenstein with the FBI and Homeland Security required the intervention of Congressman Richard Neal. The story was written up by Dr. Artenstein and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, with follow up coverage by the Los Angeles Times, CNN and, New York Times. Dr. Artenstein was recognized as a US News Hospital Hero.
Beyond the equipment needed to care for COVID-19 patients safely, staff needed training and coaching in order to be successful. Hospital leaders performed 13,000 fit tests for N95 respirators in 20 different locations.
The Department of Healthcare Quality trained and deployed 80 PPE coaches, clinicians who observed frontline caregivers to make sure they put on and removed their PPE correctly without contaminating themselves.