Healthcare workers share fears of protective equipment supply


INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Healthcare workers are sharing their concerns about the supply of personal protective equipment.

Hospitals believe we are at the start of the COVID-19 surge, and cases will continue to rise over the next few days.

Brown paper bags line the windowsills of a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Eskenazi Health. They are filled with N-95 masks that staff are reusing and labeled with the names of our front line workers.

“This is something new we are having to do,” said Dr. Graham Carlos, chief of internal medicine at Eskenazi Health.

His hospital is already recycling supplies when the state believes it is still more than a week away from peak surge.

After he has used his N-95 mask for his shift, he puts it in a brown paper bag. He said doctors believe if the mask sits idle for three days or more, the virus is not going to exist or live on that mask anymore, so the mask can be utilized again.

They are also using UV light to sterilize the masks. Dr. Carlos explains it is better to store the mask in a clean paper bag so it stays sterile for the next time health care workers need it.

“We are all in it together,” he said. “We are all trying to do best practices. We are learning from academic centers around the country when to trust your N-95.”

Dr. Carlos said Eskenazi Health received a shipment from the Strategic National Stockpile on Wednesday night and they expect another shipment on Thursday.

“We are all wanting more,” he said. “We are anxious about when it is going to come.”

He said there’s concern about how long a piece of equipment is going to remain viable the more a person reuses and recycles that type of gear.

He views this new way of care as a sign of solidarity though.

“Everybody going into those units knows there is a risk, and they are setting aside their own fears and worries for other people,” he said.

In nearly one month, Indiana has confirmed 3,039 cases of COVID-19. As of Thursday morning, the virus has killed 78 people. Doctors believe cases will continue to rise over the next 10 to 14 days.

“Part of the issue you are hearing nationally on the news is we are all in the same position, so we are all struggling to get the same supplies from the same companies,” said Dr. Ram Yeleti, chief physician executive at Community Health Network.

Supplies are a concern at Community Health too. Dr. Yeleti believes they are in a reasonable place if the curve flattens.

“If it does not flatten, then I do have to admit, I am concerned about our supply issue,” he said.

A registered nurse sent a note to FOX59 and told us she works for Community Health in Indianapolis. She wanted to remain anonymous in fear of losing her job.

The photo shows multiple brown paper bags pinned to a bulletin board.

Here’s part of the message she sent us.

“I now have to ask ‘permission’ for masks and now even required to REUSE dirty gowns, making us honestly question amongst each other if we should wear trash bags since there is not adequate laundry service. The lack of preparedness of this crisis has been a complete shock since we had been hearing about corona on the news since at least December.

I am terrified for my life, and we now have other staff out sick and coworkers who have family members sick due to COVID. We are fearful for our lives and our families due to this lack of PPE.

Another healthcare worker at an Indianapolis hospital wanted to share her story. She said she works at Eskenazi.

“I take care of and live with my grandma, and I know no matter what precautions I take, I am putting her health at risk. We have paper bags to put our PPE in so we can reuse it. It shouldn’t have to be like this. Our job is to keep patients healthy and safe, and we can’t even keep ourselves safe.”

Even with these concerns, our healthcare workers are still showing up to work to help our community.

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