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Hospitals brace for equipment shortages as coronavirus cases surge

El Camino Health, Palo Alto Medical Foundation among hospitals asking public for help

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As Santa Clara County braces for a large wave of coronavirus patients, hospitals are also preparing for a shortage of masks, gowns, respirators and other critical protective equipment.

And they're asking the public for help.

So far, hospitals around the Peninsula aren't seeing the types of equipment shortages that are happening in New York, which has about 10 times the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases as California. Santa Clara County had reported 459 cases and 17 deaths as of Wednesday, though county officials estimate that at least 5,000 county residents — and possibly as many as 10,000 — are currently infected with the virus, County Executive Jeffrey Smith said at the March 24 meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health officer, said Tuesday that case counts are still rising.

"And we anticipate they will continue to do so," Cody said. "I want to say it's still somewhat difficult to understand exactly where we are — the epidemic curve — for a number of reasons. The cases we're identifying now reflect that transmission that was happening in the community one or two weeks ago. There is that lag."

Given the projections, hospital executives, doctors and nurses throughout the area are bracing for an explosion of demand for N95 masks, gowns and other forms of "personal protective equipment."

Palo Alto resident Dr. Enoch Choi, an emergency care physician at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said there is growing concern in his San Jose hospital about an expected surge of patients. Like other hospitals throughout the state, Valley Medical currently only tests those individuals who exhibit symptoms (feverish with a cough or shortness of breath) and those who are either homeless, undergoing chemotherapy or dialysis, or living in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility — places where the virus can spread and cause illness.

Because of these limitations, the hospital hasn't tested too many patients to date. That, however, is expected to soon change. And when it does, Valley Medical and other hospitals will need more supplies, Choi said.

"Once they decide that they have enough ability to test more people, then equipment will be consumed and used more rapidly because we have to dispose of it each time we swab someone," Choi said. "We expect we'll quickly exhaust our supply."

As the county's largest hospital, Valley Medical has been particularly successful in obtaining contributions from the community. The Valley Medical Center Foundation has already received $4 million in pledges from area companies and individuals to battle COVID-19, said Chris Wilder, the foundation's CEO. Of that amount, $2 million has already been provided and the remaining $2 million is slowly being released.

The foundation has also received a huge influx of N95 masks, gowns, face shields, sanitizing wipes and other critical supplies for the hospital system, Wilder said.

"We have roomfuls of equipment now. Our entire office has been transformed into a distribution center. Millions of units of products have come in," Wilder said. "Right now, the whole plan is to get ready for what may come in the next week or two."

Other hospitals throughout the area are similarly looking for new ways to bolster their supply of personal protective equipment for the coming fight.

Sutter Health, the parent company of Palo Alto Medical Foundation, has recently put out a call for donations. Rishi Sikka, president of Sutter Health System Enterprises, said in a statement that the health system is "pursuing additional avenues to bolster and conserve our supplies, so we can meet critical community need while maintaining patient and front-line staff safety."

"Like all hospitals and health systems during this unprecedented health emergency, Sutter Health anticipates a shortage of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment," Sutter announced in a statement.

Sutter Health has taken numerous measures to address diminishing availability of personal protective equipment, a Sutter spokesperson told the Weekly. This includes moving supplies around the system to ensure all facilities have personal protective equipment and "working to secure additional PPE from conventional and unconventional sources, including receiving donations from the community."

Sutter is specifically requesting donations of N95 masks, surgical masks, procedure masks and paper masks (with ties or elastic); protective glasses or goggles; isolation gowns, painters smocks and paper protective gowns; industrial face shields; and powered, air-purifying respirator hoods. Those wishing to make a donation are asked to call 844-987-6099.

Stanford Health also began accepting donations this week, according to an announcement on its website. The call for donations came exactly a week after David Entwistle, president and CEO of Stanford Health Care, and Lloyd Minor, dean of medicine at Stanford Medicine, offered assurances at a web town hall that Stanford's medical facilities are well equipped.

Minor said Stanford has "stocked up on N95 masks" and is "well prepared to protect our health care workforce from the spread of the virus." Entwistle alluded to the global shortage of personal protective equipment and lauded the university's purchasing staff for visiting foreign countries and securing the needed resources.

"I know some organizations don’t have that, but we want to make sure our staff is protected and has the equipment that they need to do that," Entwistle said at the town hall.

But last weekend, as the number of cases in the area sharply rose, the university put out a call for donations of supplies, including masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, face shields, eye shields, isolation or surgical gowns, respirators and flocked swabs.

"In an abundance of caution as COVID-19 spreads in our community, and with the increased global shortages of supplies, Stanford Medicine is now gratefully accepting donations of needed supplies," Stanford Health announced.

Donations can be mailed to Stanford Health Care, 820 Quarry Road Extension, Palo Alto, CA 94304, Attention: Supply Donations Center. They can also be delivered in-person to the hospital’s facilities at 550 Broadway St., Redwood City (open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.) and at 1119 E. Stanley Blvd., Livermore (open weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

El Camino Health, which operates hospitals in Mountain View and Los Gatos, has similarly asked the public to donate gloves, isolation gowns, hard goggles, disposable eye shields, shoe covers, nurse caps, germicidal disinfecting surface wipes, Clorox disinfecting wipes and masks. Those wishing to donate as asked to call 650-940-7154 or email foundation@elcaminohealth.org.

"While El Camino Health is currently well-supplied, we want to continue ensuring we have the appropriate resources in place to treat patients with the highest regard to health and safety in any scenario,” the hospital’s website states.

To prepare for the coming shortage, nurses and first responders in the county are also organizing porch pickup of critical items such as disposable gowns, surgical masks, face shields and hand sanitizers. American Medical Response personnel will be making runs to households to pick up equipment between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Those wishing to donate are asked to email PorchPickup2020@gmail.com and provide their name, address and list of items they wish to donate.

State leaders are also stepping in to help. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that he had already distributed 24.2 million N95 masks to hospitals throughout the state. The state has also secured about 100 million new N95 masks, as well as coverall gowns, face shields and other critical equipment.

"That's good news for those health care leaders that are demanding more, and deserve more," Newsom said in a press conference Wednesday. "I want them to know — when they get off the docks and get through airports and customs — we'll get them out as quickly as we humanly possibly can."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2020 at 2:41 pm

Perhaps I am naive, but why are they not using robots to do the testing and protect the workers? I have seen robots being used at El Camino Hospital.


2 people like this
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Castro City
on Mar 27, 2020 at 5:57 pm

Robyn,

I understand your thought, but here are the issues regarding trying to use robotics.

First, the testing material is not the same and not in sufficient quantity. The testing materials are currently way critically short of need. Which is independent of automation.

Second, the testing process may not be automated yet. I am hearing it is done by swabbing the nose and not done by urine or blood. Handling the samples is more of an art than an simple process of dividing the samples. Thus it may not be able to be done by a robot.

Third, even when the above is done, the equipment needs to be arranged in such a way so that a robot can perform the tasks in the process. The current installations may not be able to perform the process.

And finally, the software needs to be developed to control the process, the current software may not work for this process. Thus it needs to be reprogrammed.

I hope this is helpful.


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