Hospitals concerned about potential shortage of respirator masks

Care providers in the state are concerned they may not have enough high-quality respirator masks for their workers if a large number of COVID-19 patients require hospitalization. 

That’s according to Dr. Mark Kaufman, chief medical officer for the Wisconsin Hospital Association. He explained that N95 respirator masks protect health workers from becoming infected while caring for patients with the coronavirus. WHA has been in talks with state officials about accessing national stockpiles of personal protective equipment, including these masks.

“Should there be a surge of patients infected with COVID-19, understanding the supply of N95 masks at each hospital will maximize the chances of matching supply to need,” Kaufman said in an email. 

In the meantime, he noted hospitals are making changes to ensure they have enough capacity, supplies and staff to handle the outbreak. Many hospitals are restricting travel for their workers and cancelling large gatherings such as conferences. 

“Hospitals are developing contingency plans for a large influx of COVID-19 patients needing inpatient care and discussing when and if it will be appropriate to cancel elective surgeries to free up bed capacity,” Kaufman said. 

Plus, he said hospitals are updating their information in the state Department of Health Services’ EMResource database, which they can use to send alerts and other information to each other and to health officials. 

As the number of cases in the United States rises rapidly amid increased testing, Kaufman said hospitals are reviewing emergency preparedness plans and “reconnecting” with their region’s Healthcare Emergency Readiness Coalitions. 

“Coordination, communication and collaboration within one’s HERC will facilitate getting the health care resources to the hospitals and patients that need them the most at any point in time,” he said. 

He stressed that the state’s existing emergency preparedness infrastructure is strong, but added that policymakers can ensure “adequate support” for this system. That could include “additional financial resources as needed” to support care providers dealing with rising case numbers. 

Kaufman called Gov. Tony Evers’ recent declaration of a public health emergency “a significant event that should increase resources” for dealing with the outbreak. Still, he said federal officials could take further action by temporarily suspending regulations limiting capacity for hospitals and other providers. 

–By Alex Moe