Ashley Carty is a seasoned medical professional with over 8 years of experience working at the top hospitals in Southern California, including Hoag, Saddleback Memorial, and UCSD.
We’ve been battling this pandemic for over five months now. One would think that the hospitals would have an adequate amount of N95 masks. The harsh reality? They don’t. Many hospitals across the United States have been short on N95 masks since the beginning of the pandemic, which has caused healthcare professionals to reuse respirators for upwards of 30 days with a surgical mask placed over it. We dive into why nurses still don’t have masks, and what you can do to help.
When you start working for a new medical facility (be it a hospital or a doctor’s office), it’s a requirement to be fit-tested for a respirator. This ensures that if a patient that is suffering from an airborne illness is seen at your facility, you have adequate protection.
To ensure protection, a respirator fit-test is mandated because the mask needs to form a tight seal around your face and neck to work properly. Otherwise, it allows air to come in through the holes rather than being tight and only allowing air through the material that filters out the contaminated air. The fit-test will require a few specific makes and models to be tested and the employer must provide you with the same make and model of respirator that you were fit tested for.
Incredible organizations are doing a great job of getting volunteers to donate masks, money, and time. However, many are struggling to get masks that the staff can actually use when working with a COVID-19 positive patient. This is where things get tricky and why it’s been hard to get vital masks to healthcare workers.
People all over the country are donating masks in bulk to hospitals, but those same people don’t understand that hospitals can’t accept these donations. KN95 masks and even N95 masks may be on the CDC-approved list, but that does not mean that they are explicitly approved for that hospital. Each hospital has requirements in place regarding masks. These requirements only allow donations based on what brand and sizes their employees were fit tested for.
For example, if a New York hospital was fit tested for 3M N95 respirators and their employees need 3M 1860s, then that’s all they can legally provide them to be within compliance. Although the CDC may have approved a specific KN95 face mask, if it is not a brand or mask type that the employee is fit-tested for, the respirators cannot be used by healthcare professionals at that particular hospital.
The only way around this would be to get the hospitals the exact masks they are fit tested for (most hospitals test for 3M’s). Unfortunately, most suppliers are out of stock or on extremely low supply. The other alternative would be to continually fit-test the staff for the respirator brands and styles that are readily available. However, the chemicals needed to do such tests are also extremely low in supply.
Hospitals need the brands of masks that they fit-tested their staff for. This has to be done by creating partnerships with those companies and opening up additional factories that can manufacture the respirators with the brand specifications and necessary (and unique) materials. Another alternative is to open up factories to help manufacture the chemicals needed for new fittest and collect and train volunteers to perform the tests.
Many companies, such as Organic 101, have come forward and turned their manufacturing facilities into mask production facilities. While these companies have the good intentions of getting masks to healthcare workers, only to learn later on that the products can’t be accepted.
Additionally, other big-retailers and businesses with boots on the ground in other countries that are producing CDC-approved masks started importing them to sell to the hospitals only to realize that the hospitals can’t use masks that their employees aren’t fit tested for. They are now selling such masks to the general public.
If you currently have N95 (not KN95) masks at home or have connections to people who have 3M, Halyard, Moldex, or others, please consider donating them or selling them to your local hospitals. You can also request to trade them for the masks that they have stockpiled that they can not use, such as the KN95 face masks. N95 masks are much better suited for medical environments and aren’t necessary to be worn by civilians.
Do you work in a hospital and cannot get your hands on the respirators you’ve been fit tested for? Let us know the brand in the comments below, and we will add it to this list.
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