Healthcare workers identify PPE concerns as Covid cases spike

Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 9:22 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Douglas County has entered a dangerous phase of the Coronavirus pandemic. Cases have increased every week in October and Friday, the county saw its biggest single day increase.

It’s a reality that’s causing essential healthcare workers to pay even closer attention to their personal protective equipment.

6-News checked in with three healthcare systems. Claudia Bohn, the Communications Specialist for Methodist, said “I’m told we are in good shape with our supplies.”

But Nebraska Medicine and Urgent Care Omaha did express concern.

For Nebraska Medicine, masks, gloves and even medical gowns aren’t a major concern. They launder their own gowns, but Shelly Schwedhelm, the Executive Director of Emergency Management and Bio-preparedness, says the concerns are elsewhere.

“The biggest challenge for us has been respirators.” Schwedhelm declared, adding Nebraska Medicine immediately began tracking their supply when the outbreak started, and also stockpiling supplies as part of their pandemic planning. “Without that we would have been in really sorry shape.” she said.

Their N-95 respirators can be used 4-6 times before getting tossed. They use an ultraviolet decontamination process and right now they have about a three-month supply. But Nebraska Medicine - like Urgent Care Omaha- worry if the rate of infection continues at the current pace, they’re in trouble.

Urgent Care Omaha, located on 325 N. 72nd Street, is battling ‘allotment’ from medical suppliers. “That means they take the last six months prior to the pandemic and whatever you order at that time that’s what you can order now.” Michelle Mertz explained.

Mertz is the CEO and General Manager of the establishment and went on to say the process has made it extremely difficult to obtain disinfectant.

Mertz said throughout the pandemic she’s made an effort to shop local, but despite operating a medical facility, is still not allowed to buy more than one container of disinfectant a day, at big box stores like Walmart, Target and Menard’s.

The location’s daily patient intake has also tripled and Mertz explained the clients aren’t all Covid-related, but says nonetheless there’s an influx in people still seeking medical attention because of heightened health concerns. The influx, coupled with a struggle to get PPE, forces her essential workers to swap convenience for creativity.

The easy spray bottles and wipes aren’t as readily available and they’ve turned to new products they don’t usually work with.

“We’re getting by, but boy it’s very challenging and it’s very tiring.” Mertz outlined. Schwedhelm says Nebraska Medicine employees are also tired, describing it a shared experience among essential workers across the country.

Nebraska Medicine monitors Covid dashboards daily, using it as a tool to continue monitoring their PPE needs and Schwedhelm adds they have a team currently researching alternative respirator options to offset the demand for their current supply.

Meanwhile, Urgent Care employs the use of HEPA filters, which clean every molecule of air in a room within eight minutes.

Both organizations stress that cleanliness and quality care isn’t suffering. They are each absorbing the stress and financial strain of managing PPE supply as Coronavirus cases spike right now.

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