Relief package billions can't buy hospitals out of shortages

In this March 17, 2020, photo, Theresa Malijan, a registered nurse, has hand sanitizer applied on her hands after removing her gloves after she took a nasopharyngeal swab from a patient at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing station for University of Washington Medicine patients in Seattle. The Associated Press has found that the critical shortage of testing swabs, protective masks, surgical gowns and hand sanitizer can be tied to a sudden drop in imports of medical supplies.

Thousands of masks, surgical gowns, face shields and other supplies needed to keep doctors and nurses safe from the coronavirus came to Colorado from a federal stockpile in recent days, but the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management and Colorado Springs hospitals say they need more, even as health care providers take steps to preserve supplies.

El Paso County received 10 pallets of surgical masks, face shields, gowns and the other protective items from the state and Strategic National Stockpile that has been distributed to police, firefighters and health care workers, said Lonnie Inzer, deputy chief for the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management.

Now the office is seeking donations of new, sealed protective equipment, such as gloves and additional masks, he said.

"What we are really concerned about is that we maintain our stockpile and supply," Inzer said.

The office of emergency management will accept donations of protective equipment for the foreseeable future, Inzer said. The staff has also been working to buy supplies amid a national shortage and seeing success, he said.

“Manufacturers and vendors are gearing up for this,” he said.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also expects to distribute more protective equipment from the National Strategic Stockpile soon, said Mike Willis of the office of emergency management. Materials from the stockpile are distributed to counties based on their population, number of residents older than 65 and the number of health care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted-living providers, he said.

The supply of protective equipment needs to be replenished through donations and new purchases regularly because much of it has to be thrown away after it's used, Inzer said. The office of emergency management and hospitals cannot accept homemade equipment, such as masks that community members have made, but those materials can be given to the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, he said.

Penrose Hospital is in need of protective equipment as it faces an "incredible influx" of patients that are "terribly sick," said City Councilman David Geislinger, who works as a chaplain at the hospital.

"I am here to tell you that this is very, very, very real," he said, in a council meeting Tuesday.

Some health clinics took steps Tuesday to conserve protective equipment and protect, staff including closing locations and turning to telemedicine.

Optum and Mountain View Medical Group temporarily closed seven primary and pediatric clinics Tuesday while Optum opened three clinics dedicated to coronavirus care.

The closures and new dedicated clinics are meant to help protect staff from exposure to the virus and to preserve personal protective equipment because the number of coronavirus cases in the area is expected to rise, said Tiffany Sullivan, president for Optum operations.

“We are moving into a period of significant growth within Colorado,” she said.

Optum and Mountain View Medical Group are owned by the same company, which operates 30 locations in Colorado Springs.

The three clinics Optum opened specifically for coronavirus care treat patients with mild to moderate symptoms and will refer patients to hospital treatment if necessary, she said.

PeakMed Direct Primary Care, which runs three clinics, announced a telemedicine-first approach Tuesday and asked all its members to schedule either a phone call or video chat with a health care provider, which will help preserve protective equipment, founder and CEO Dr. Mark Tomasulo said.

"It allows us to drastically reduce the load on our clinics," he said.

PeakMed first encouraged patients to seek telemedicine appointments last week and since then has seen in-person visits drop by 75%, company spokesman Travis Bockenstedt said.

UCHealth staff working in urgent care centers and emergency departments are also providing online consultations, said Thomas Hutton, a spokesman for the health system.

At UCHealth hospitals, staff are preparing for a surge in patients and may assign employees that were working on elective procedures suspended by the governor last week to other areas of the hospital, he said. Other staff members who were not working with patients, may start doing so, he said.

How to donate new, sealed personal protective equipment such as N95 masks, sterile gloves, disposable gowns, goggles and face shields:

UChealth accepts items at a donation shed on the south side of the Memorial Administrative Cente, 2420 E. Pikes Peak Ave.

The office of emergency management is accepting smaller donations from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at 3755 Mark Dabling Blvd. To donate in bulk contact Bart Evans at 719-575-8418 or bartevans@elpasoco.com. In addition to protective equipment, the office is also in need of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

Centura Health will accept donations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at a drop box outside Penrose Hospital at 2222 N. Nevada Avenue. On Wednesday, Centura will start accepting boxed masks, gloves in sealed packaging, packed gowns or rain ponchos with sleeves and face shields labeled as surgical, isolation, dental or medical procedure.

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 636-0293.

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