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In Oregon and across the nation, public health doctors, nurses and first responders are struggling with a severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as respiratory masks and surgical gowns.

Personal Protective Equipment

Respiratory masks, such as this one, and other personal protection equipment used by medical professionals is in short supply in Oregon and across the nation.

The PPE's are needed for critical use by medical professionals in the treatment of coronavirus. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has been pressing the White House and federal agencies to supply Oregon with the needed PPE’s.

“Health care workers cannot safely treat COVID-19 patients without personal protective equipment, and I have directed the state Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) to focus state resources on procuring as much PPE as possible," Brown said in a release issued Sunday, March 29.

The governor also thanked individuals and businesses who have contributed the PPE to first responders.

"You truly reflect the Oregon way - coming together in difficult times for the good of Oregonians most in need,” she said.

Brown issued Executive Order 20-10 on March 19, in response to a risk of a severe shortage of personal protective equipment in the state. According to Brown, without the equipment, health care providers on the front line of the coronavirus public health emergency are at risk of exposure and infection.

“Even the significant amounts donated fall far short of what is needed in Oregon, with health care workers across the state still reusing PPE and even making their own masks and face shields due to national PPE shortages,” Brown said.

During an electronic news conference Monday, March 30, health care workers joined state officials to continue the plea for more PPE’s. Nurses from hospitals around the state told reporters said they were wearing goggles instead of protective eye shields because of the PPE shortage.

Columbia River Fire & Rescue EMS supply manager Jeff Lockhart said the supply of PPE his agency had on hand as of Monday, March 30, was sufficient to support the current CRFR call volume.

“We are able to support current operations but we are noticing an increase in the number of sick patient calls,” he said. “We have been directed by the District to wear a full PPE outfit, which includes masks, gloves, and other protection in the form of eye protection and a gown. Prior to the pandemic, we used eye protection and gloves.”

Lockhart said his agency is taking additional measures to ensure that the CRFR first responders have the critical tools necessary to provide patient care safely.

The measures CRFR are taken to mitigate any possible supply shortages include:

  • Placed several orders for additional PPE and sanitizing equipment with multiple vendors to obtain a "place in line" on respective back order lists.
  • Remain in frequent contact with local sales associates of our two primary medical supply vendors, Life-Assist and BoundTree, to ascertain status of, and prioritize fulfillment of our medical supply needs.

"We are working alongside Columbia County Public Health and the Oregon State Fire Marshal's office, and we are researching several other medical suppliers, including Amazon, as possible sources of additional PPE and sanitizing equipment,” Lockhart said. “We have received, and are currently accepting public PPE donations and we have applied for aid with businesses that are offering to provide safety products, free of charge, to first responders.”

Lockhart said CRFR also is working with the District’s physician advisor, Dr. Dean Sasek, to align with neighboring counties' EMS systems by researching and possibly implementing revisions of patient care treatment protocols that would accommodate both the national medical supply shortages and reduce provider risk to COVID-19.

“We have been issued MSA P100 reusable, cartridge filter masks to reduce our consumption of disposable N95 mask and we have procured a healthy supply of full Tyvek protective suits,” he said. “We also have adjusted EMS operations to help reduce risk and PPE consumption for patients that our 911 center deems as "high risk" by assigning only one responder, donned with full PPE, to enter a patients home to conduct an immediate patient assessment.”

Lockhart said if appropriate, all other responders wait outside the call location with PPE in hand, ready to assist if called upon. According to Lockhart, CRFR regularly monitors COVID-19 related statistics, recommendations, and directives as provided by the CDC, Oregon Health Authority, and the governor's office and stand ready to adjust the District’s tactics and strategies at a moments notice as new information is provided.

“The safety of our responders and the public we serve is always our first priority,” Lockhart said. “We are taking every step possible to manage this pandemic, and the subsequent safety product shortages it has caused, to provide the safest outcome to our responders and our public.”

Follow this developing story here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.


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