Facing a shortage of personal protective equipment – or PPE – for doctors, nurses and staff, Washington Health System on Friday issued a letter asking local companies to donate masks, protective suits, latex gloves and other supplies to help protect health care workers on the front lines from the highly contagious COVID-19.
WHS also released a message from Washington Hospital President and CEO Brook Ward asking community members to make monetary donations to the Washington Health System Foundation to purchase protective gear and supplies for doctors, nurses, other staff, and patients.
“Even if they can donate $20, it would help with funds that will go toward paying for additional PPEs, ongoing needs for staff or patients, and other critical supplies,” said Stephanie Wagoner, spokesperson for WHS. “We’ve been working with local home improvement stores to purchase some of these necessary supplies and some have even donated to us.”
In an an open letter regarding the need for PPE, Ward wrote, “Washington Health System is in the process of preparing to handle an influx of patients infected with the novel coronavirus. The virus is highly contagious, and we are in critical need of invaluable protective gear and equipment essential for our providers and staff. Your donation could make all the difference in preventing the spread of this infection and allowing our team to continue to provide care.”
WHS specifically asked for N95 masks, protective suits, safety goggles, face shields, and latex gloves.
State Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny/Washington, immediately began contacting the business community to donate protective gear.
“We want to protect those people on the front lines. We need to make sure they feel safe and that they are safe, and as it gets worse, they need to be protected in order to continue to be able to help patients,” said Mihalek.
Range Resources was among the companies that collected and donated N95 masks, safety glasses, and nitrile gloves within a few hours.
Wagoner expressed gratitude for the donations, and said, “If there’s a company that has these resources and can donate them to us, we’d greatly appreciate it.”
Across the country, hospitals are facing a critical shortage of protective gear, and the global surge in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic has left hospitals and medical workers scrambling for masks, shields and gowns to protect themselves while treating patients with the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, distributors are anticipating a shortfall of PPE for the next three to four months. In response to the PPE shortages, the CDC last week scaled back recommendations regarding PPE for health care professionals working with COVID-19 patients, which has doctors and nurses worried about the safety of themselves and patients.
A Washington Hospital nurse, who spoke to the Observer-Reporter on the condition of anonymity, shared her concerns Saturday.
“It’s scary. This is unknown, and I’m scared. I want to take care of my patients. That’s why I went to nursing school, to help people. I just don’t want to take care of patients when I can’t take care of myself,” she said.
Wagoner said the hospital is doing everything it can to provide staff with the necessary protective gear.
“This is a real situation. There is a national shortage (of PPEs). We have PPE to handle our current patient load, but with the expected influx, we’re trying to do everything possible to make sure we have the proper stock on hand,” said Wagoner.
Mihalek said physicians from St. Clair Hospital also have contacted her about their worries about the shortage of PPE.
Monongahela Valley Hospital spokesman Andrew Bilinsky said the hospital’s PPE supplies are adequate for now, and, like all hospitals, are conserving supplies.
“The real concern is if a surge hits the region,” Bilinsky said in a statement. “Our hospital, like most, could find themselves without the needed supplies to effectively care for our patients.”
Bilinsky said several groups have donated supplies to MVH, a show of community support.
“It has been a true blessing for our team,” he said.
Bilinsky said the hospital is accepting donations of PPE from businesses that can share their supplies. To make a donation, businesses can contact Melissa Marion, director, The Monongahela Valley Hospital Foundation, at 724-258-1855.
Allegheny Health Network currently has the PPE supply the hospitals need to protect their caregivers, but is exploring how to procure additional quantities of protective gear they will need to meet the increasing demand in the weeks ahead.
AHN has also implemented new protocols to conserve and direct supplies across its network, which includes Canonsburg Hospital, in anticipation of potential shortages.
“Like all health providers across the country, AHN is mindful of the limited supplies of PPE that currently exist as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow,” said spokesman Nikki Buccina in a statement.
WHS is encouraging the community to follow guidelines to “flatten the curve,” including social distancing.
In a letter to the public that will be released on Monday, Ward wrote, “While our doctors, nurses, techs and pharmacists work tirelessly caring for patients day in and day out, we each have a responsibility to do our part for the greater good.”
He continued, “That part may be as simple as washing your hands, covering your cough, social distancing, and staying home when you are sick.”
Ward urged people who experience a cough, shortness of breath and/or fever, and are seeking treatment, to notify the medical facility or emergency medical services ahead of time.
“By doing so, you are protecting our patients, our team members, our local community, and the community worldwide,” he wrote.
The spread of COVID-19 is increasing at an exponential pace, and the state Department of Health reported Saturday a total of 371 Pennsylvanians have tested positive in 28 counties, including five in Washington County. However, the United States lags in the availability of test kits to confirm if a patient has contracted COVID-19, making it difficult to know how many cases there actually are.
In his community letter, Ward noted the extraordinary times in which we are living and reaffirmed the hospital’s commitment to steadfastly serve the community, and encouraged unity and compassion.
“Our commitment to caring for others will not waver in this storm. We are dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of our patients and their families, our team members and their families, our local community, and the community worldwide,” he said. “We as a health system and as a society are committed to taking every precaution to slow the spread of this illness, but let’s not forget to spread compassion wherever possible. We have to remember that we are all in this together.”
He thanked businesses and individuals who have reached out to ask what they can do to help, and responded, “Our response is this: Be kind to one another, support your family, your friends, your neighbors, and even strangers.”
To contribute to the WHS Foundation, which will be handling all donations, call 724-223-3875 or email email@example.com. To make an online donation, go to https://3207.thankyou4caring.org/GiveNow.
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