Critical PPE shortages at central Wisconsin hospitals: Understanding the data

Health care workers inside an Aspirus COVID-19 intensive care unit (WSAW Photo)
Health care workers inside an Aspirus COVID-19 intensive care unit (WSAW Photo)(WSAW)
Published: Apr. 10, 2020 at 6:40 PM CDT
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Personal protective equipment (PPE) remains the top resource concern for hospitals across Wisconsin amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Department of Health officials said at a press briefing Friday. Underscoring the need is data newly released from the Wisconsin Hospital Association, which now provides a daily-updated

showing numbers of cases, ICU beds, ventilators, and PPE hospitals supplies across the state’s seven hospital regions.

Half or more of the sixteen hospitals inside the north central Wisconsin region (healthcare emergency readiness coalition, or HERC) show less than a seven-day supply of critical gear like face masks, face shields, gowns, gloves and more. However, that data has to be understood inside the context of how individual hospital networks manage PPE, Mark Grapentine with the WHA explained to NewsChannel 7.

“There is some supply that comes in sporadically to hospitals, so that kinda helps move the situation along. So you might have six days’ worth of supply, but you may have that for a number of days in a row.”

Additionally, hospitals in a network may report critical shortages that don’t reflect available supplies from centralized hospitals in the network that will be shifted to meet the demand, Grapentine explained. “They have that ability to reach out to the mother ship and say ‘hey we need some masks, can you get them up here.”

Aspirus, which operates several of the hospitals included within the north central HERC where half or more display shortages, operates their PPE supply from a centralized system standpoint and distributes PPE to where it’s needed most, a spokesperson said. Health care workers there have been reusing face masks under CDC contingency guidelines.

Marshfield Clinic, owning or partially-owning three hospitals inside the north central HERC, said their supply is adequate and is being managed through measures like postponements of elective surgeries—a measure adopted by hospitals across the state to manage the pandemic, according to the WHA. Marshfield Clinic was the recipient of hundreds of cloth masks created and donated through community channels for patients to help conserve the face mask supply. At last report, employees were required to reuse surgical masks over several shifts.

“We are investigating innovative methods of decontaminating and reusing PPE including our N95 respirators in order to extend their use,” a spokesperson noted in an email.

Businesses and organizations across the state have stepped up to donate their own PPE supplies or to ramp up production of much-needed equipment. Marshfield Clinic and Aspirus say they’ve received significant contributions from local businesses to help offset supply shortages. Other organizations have found unique ways to contribute: CREATE Portage County, for example, has been able to create eight hundred 3D-printed face shields in the past couple weeks and sent them to hospitals, first responders and long-term care facilities across the area. They’ve just received funding through the Medical College of Wisconsin to ramp up that production even more, project activator Chris Klesmith told NewsChannel 7.

There have been multiple shipments of PPE supplies from the national stockpile, but they’ve not been sufficient, according to Governor Tony Evers. A state website requesting donations and sales of PPE stockpiles from other industries is now being utilized to coordinate a Wisconsin stockpile to be administered to hospitals in the most need.

“While we continue to press on our opportunities to buy more, to receive more donations, we are also pursuing the kinds of strategies to prolong PPE that we do have,” DHS secretary-designee Andrea Palm said.

Evers said he was seeking volunteers from active and retired health care professionals to help fill the gaps in clinical and non-clinical support as the state continues to prepare for surges in COVID-19 patients. On Friday, the DHS announced a total of 128 deaths across Wisconsin and 904 hospitalized for COVID-19.