Kaweah Delta responds to mask reuse claims made by certified nursing assistant

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Over the weekend, a certified nursing assistant at Kaweah Delta Medical Center told Action News they were being forced to wear the same surgical mask for several weeks.

RELATED: Kaweah Delta staff forced to wear same face mask for weeks, says nursing assistant https://abc30.com/health/kaweah-delta-staff-forced-to-wear-same-mask-for-weeks-says-nursing-assistant/6116321/

As a result, they expressed concerns about possibly contracting COVID-19 and contaminating different patients' rooms.

But Kaweah Delta CEO Gary Herbst says employees can receive a replacement mask at any time.

"We always said from day one, and tried not to have any confusion around it, is if your mask got wet, or soiled, or dirty, or you feel like maybe somebody did cough or sneeze on you, whether they were positive or negative, change out your mask," Herbst said.

Because of a nationwide shortage in personal protective equipment, or PPE, Kaweah Delta, like other hospitals, started to conserve supplies.

By asking employees to reuse masks, and putting patients with similar conditions in specific units, the hospital says they've cut their average daily mask usage by half.

"Normally, we're changing them out after every patient," Herbst said. "Every time you go into the room, you're putting on a new mask, throwing it away. That's what we traditionally do. But you saw across the nation, as it started breaking out, the first thing hospitals were desperately crying out for was PPE. Because we simply, as a healthcare system across the nation, were significantly undersupplied."

But there is good news on that front: Kaweah Delta's PPE supply is starting to grow.
On Monday morning, they received a shipment of 50,000 surgical masks from China. They now have 109,000 surgical masks and 70,000 N95 respirators.

So on Friday, the hospital started a new mask distribution program - which includes issuing three new N95 masks every two weeks for employees working in COVID-19 hot zones, like the ICU or emergency room.

Employees store their three masks in separate bags, and use one for each shift they work.

"And then my fourth shift I go back to that first mask, which after sitting there for at least 72 hours if there was any virus on it, it's now died," Herbst explained.

Herbst says their efforts to conserve PPE will prove effective.

Because when Tulare County hits its peak of COVID-19 cases, possibly within the next month, hospitals will be relying on their PPE reserves.

Kaweah Delta says their mask distribution program also includes employees not directly caring for patients in COVID-19 hotspots.

Ancillary staff (those who go to those units, but not all the time): Receive two N95's and two paper bags every two weeks

Other employees receive one surgical mask and one paper bag every two weeks

For more news coverage on the coronavirus and COVID-19 go to ABC30.com/coronavirus
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