By Holly Carlson, MS, RN, CCRN
In 2015 the majority of health-care organizations had integrated just in time supply processes for medical grade supplies. This happened in part because of narrowing profit margins and the prevalence of LEAN © for organizational efficiencies. Just in time supply management works great until an organization enters a pandemic. Then the demand for supplies exceeds what is being produced and stored by manufacturers and stored by organizations.
Personal Protective Equipment Shortage
Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic rumors of personal protective equipment shortages have dominated in the media. In fact, the rumors are true. Many healthcare staff have had to reuse masks and gowns because of supply shortage.
Historically, reusing personal protective equipment was cause for termination. The rant about the risk to people being cared for in health-care by infectious disease personnel forever rings in the ears of staff members. Yet, in a supply shortage, it is overlooked.
Lack of Medical Grade Protection
As the past year has drifted away, supply availability has waxed and waned. Supplies received are not the same color, the packaging is unfamiliar, and undoubtedly vary from organization to organization. Retrospectively, the familiarity with color and packaging bring security. Security because health-care staff know that they are using equipment that will protect them and their loved ones at home. Without staff, people cannot be cared for.
Unfortunately, while supply chains providing personal protective equipment seem to be steadier, the product is not protecting the staff. The products rip more readily, it is thinner than usual, and the labeling is frequently not in English. Come to find out, some of the labeling actually states “not for medical use.” Yet these are the products being purchased and used by frontline care staff.
Who is Checking the Products?
After finding products in a hospital that were labeled “not for medical use” or “for food service only” the supply managers were unable to answer who was responsible for verifying the personal protective equipment was going to protect the frontline staff. Just think of small community-based organizations scrapping for whatever supplies they can get, never imagining they would have to institute quality control and verification processes to prove protective equipment is medical grade.
Here are a few triggers that indicate that your supply may not be medical grade:
- The fine print on the packaging states “not for medical use”
- Gloves appear thin and tear easily.
- The manufacturer is unfamiliar.
- Packaging does not list the protective properties of the product.
- The product does not show properties of protection when in use i.e. moisture barrier.
- Suspicious contents i.e. methanol.
- U.S. industry leaders don’t recognize or endorse the protective qualities or grading of the equipment.
Our frontline staff are vital to the health of our communities. Having equipment is one thing. Having equipment that actually protects frontline staff is the responsibility of organizational leaders. Staff should be able to focus on the people they care for, not how they are going to care for them. Or even worse having to make a decision to sacrifice their health for their patient or resident.
Holly Carlson MS, RN, CCRN is a freelance writer and owner of HDC Consulting. Holly is a registered nurse with 25 years of healthcare experience in both acute and post-acute healthcare environments. Her experience includes direct care, organizational leadership, facility management, and organization culture development.