Monday, August 8, 2022

Here’s how local health care systems are addressing the continuing need for PPE

(WYDaily/Courtesy Dale Gauding)
(WYDaily/Courtesy Dale Gauding, Sentara Healthcare)

While the beginning of the pandemic caused many medical facilities to panic over the amount of needed personal protective equipment, local health care systems have found ways to keep themselves well-stocked and protected.

Many health care facilities and organizations across the country at the start of the pandemic were worried about a shortage of PPE supplies, including Sentara Healthcare and Riverside Health System. However, over the past few months the two health care systems have developed new ways to address PPE needs.

“Anytime a pandemic comes, you never know how long it’s going to last,” said Donna Wilmoth, vice president and nurse executive at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center. “We wanted to make sure we were utilizing PPE in the most appropriate manner when it first hit.”

Back in March, Sentara Williamsburg developed a calculation system that looked at PPE usage in correlation to the items needed per patient each 12-hour shift, Wilmoth said. So with hourly rounds for clinical staff and nurses, the calculations came out to be about four items for each staff member per 12-hour shift. This includes masks, gloves, protective eye wear and other forms of PPE. 

Staff also looked at how rounds were being done with patients who had been exposed and created a new system to limit the amount of times staff were entering and leaving a particular room by bundling certain activities.

But some of the Sentara’s protections were in place before the pandemic existed and most likely go unnoticed by many who visit.

Sentara started the “world’s largest clinical trial” in 2016 that researched ionized copper and its impacts on preventing infections and the spread of viruses in linens and hard surfaces. The study determined that hard surfaces and linens infused with copper oxide compounds contributed to an 83 percent reduction in certain bacteria.

As a result the Sentara started using ionized copper in many of its linens and hard surfaces, which has helped protect staff and patients even before the coronavirus came to the area.

Sentara has also been working to continue growing its supply of PPE over the past few months.

“We have a rather vigorous supply-chain process,” said Dale Gauding, spokesman for Sentara Healthcare. “Our people have been out in the marketplace taking every opportunity to resupply because there was that period where no one could get anything.”

Sentara has partnered with organizations such as Cupron, which makes copper based antimicrobial materials. Prior to the pandemic, Sentara worked with the company to supply copper-based linens but in recent months Cupron has also supplied fabric which, through a partnership with London Bridge Trading Company, was used to produce nearly 20,000 masks.

Catherine Smith, system director for Advanced Nursing Practice at Sentara, said that extra supply of masks has helped supplement the procedure masks available so non-clinical staff facing the pandemic could wear the Cupron masks and other clinical staff members could use procedure masks.

The health care system is still monitoring and controlling the use of masks as much as possible to ensure the supplies remain steady should case numbers begin to rise. 

“It’s a fluid situation, it could change day-to-day and hour-to-hour based on the number of patients,” Smith said. “None of us know what the future holds, so we are always trying to be proactive and thinking about having a bank of supplies and not wasting them.”

For example, staff members who wear N95 masks are assigned a specific mask with their name on it that they return at the end of each shift. The masks go through a pre-processing cycle that cleans them with a spray of hydrogen peroxide for several hours. This process allows the masks to be reused by the specific staff member up to 20 times before being disposed of.

Riverside is doing a similar process to reuse N95 masks, said Bob Hornsby, system director for supply chain. However, instead of using a chemical spray Riverside is using a UV-light system which allows the masks to be reused up to three times.

But reusing masks isn’t the only thing that’s had to change in recent months, Hornsby said.

“Over the years, health care has moved to a very disposable world but this has definitely opened our eyes,” he said. “We’re having to look at things differently now.”

When the pandemic first came to the area, Hornsby said Riverside faced the global shortage of PPE like many other organizations. While the health care system had a small reserve of emergency supplies available, that wouldn’t be nearly enough to get the organization through the pandemic.

“I don’t think anyone could project just how much PPE would be required basically throughout the world,” he said. “Because everyone was buying the same things at once.”

To understand just how much PPE is being used, Hornsby said the organization meticulously tracks what has been ordered, where it has been distributed and when it is disposed of. For example, across all of Riverside’s facilities there are approximately 1,500 to 3,000 isolation gowns used each day; 70,000 to 100,00 individual gloves and 3,500  procedure masks.

To address this issue, Riverside first had to look at how to conserve the PPE it already had. This was done by creating one location for delivery and distribution of PPE so that it could be monitored and tracked. 

The organization also formed a partnership with Prestige Ameritech, a Texas-based surgical mask and respirator manufacturer, to help supplement the organization’s current supply.

“By no means will it supply us with everything we need, but it gives us a jumpstart for now,” he said. 

Riverside has also rented two offsite storage units that allows it to build a reserve of supplies should another wave of the pandemic hit.

Hornsby said Riverside has been lucky to find solutions and new procedures that helped to keep staff and patients protected. But moving forward, the organization and others have to keep a close eye on what’s being used and what might be needed in the future.

“I can say we are in much better shape than we were previously, but we need to make sure we still continue to conserve what we do have as we’re also trying to build up a supply,” he said. “It’s still very much a challenge but we are just much more in control at this point.”


Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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