BUFFALO, N.Y. — As Western New York continues its effort to contain coronavirus, local hospitals continue their efforts to keep their personal protective equipment stockpile up to state standards. That is posing some challenges for hospitals.
At the height of the pandemic in New York State back in March we learned what PPE means. There were numerous concerns and even protests over shortages of personal protective equipment for hospital staffers treating COVID patients. Back on March 26, ECMC reported they were down to a week and a half supply.
Governor Cuomo said back then "Anyone can give you a report that they are close to running out of PPE in a week and a half. That is the status across the country."
So in early May, Cuomo told hospitals around the state they should have a 90 day PPE supply in stock.
And now a letter was sent out on Tuesday by State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, which told hospitals do an inventory and report what they have within 24 hours. The letter also states an interim goal of 60 days supply by the end of August and then full compliance with that 90 days supply requirement by the end of September.
We checked back with ECMC and spoke with Vice President and Chief Safety Officer Charlene Ludlow. She told us they were well aware of the need to seek out other suppliers to increase their stockpile.
"We did put some controls on a lot of our personal protective equipment," Ludlow said. "But currently we are - the majority of our items are at 90 days. But most everything is over 60 days."
Kaleida spokesman Michael Hughes says that while safety for patients and staff is always a priority, they are reviewing the mandate and seeking more clarification on what supplies are specifically included and the designated usage rate. He also referred us to a letter from the Greater New York Hospital Association which mentions usage rate between April 13 and April 27. The letter also says the state's new emergency requirement is consistent with CDC guidance and there could be extensions if a hospital can explain any complications with acquiring the PPE materials.
JoAnn Cavanaugh of Catholic Health says they are working diligently to stockpile a 90 day plus supply. But she notes it is becoming more difficult to obtain testing supplies because of the demand with the high COVID rate in other parts of the country.
There are more suppliers now in the marketplace with greater demand for the equipment. And N-95 masks are still very much in demand. Even the small start up firm Innosek in the City of Tonawanda is turning out plastic face shields with 3-D printers. Those shields and goggles are considered more important for health care workers with the determination that droplets from patients could spread infection into the eyes of the staffers.
But for some hospitals like Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center it's not easy. Amy Wojciechowski, who oversees the hospitals infection control program, says PPE items are more affordable now than three months ago but still more expensive than normal. She also points out that their bulk buy power is more limited than a hospital system like Kaleida or Catholic Health.
"We only have the buying power of a single 171 bed hospital," Wojciechowski said. "And so when they're saying you need to buy 100,000 of X-Y-Z in order for you to even purchase it - much less get a decent price - it does present additional challenges for a small facility like us."
Hospitals point out that there has been some partial government assistance to help cover some PPE purchases but it is still a huge financial drain coupled with other COVID related costs and lost revenue.