Open letter: Hospital has ‘critical need’ for healthcare worker supplies

Dr. Pablo Johnson and nurses Mary Frothingham and Mike Kelley, each sporting the FDA-approved masks that they will be using for the coming week. Courtesy photo
Dr. Pablo Johnson and nurses Mary Frothingham and Mike Kelley, each sporting the FDA-approved masks that they will be using for the coming week. Courtesy photo

In this open letter, Moab Regional Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dylan Cole said that government needs to mount aggressive response, that higher testing capacity is needed, that there is a shortage of ventilators, and that employees are currently getting only one mask per week.

Moab Regional Hospital, like many hospitals around the country, faces a critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep healthcare workers safe, in particular facemasks and N95 respirators. We are following CDC crisis guidance to extend current supplies through reducing and reusing current masks and respirators, and even using masks beyond their typical expiration date. Currently, employees at Moab Regional Hospital are assigned one mask per week.

On Thursday, a request was posted to our local community, along with a pattern and instructions, for reusable hand-sewn masks for our employees to use as last resort. While there is little data to suggest that cloth masks are effective in preventing infectious disease transmission, the current situation in our country left us no choice. We are profoundly grateful to the generosity of our community and the remarkable outpouring of support and volunteerism.

In a noteworthy surprise, the request has also gone viral and received over 130,000 views on social media. This response is a demonstration of the ingenuity, dedication, and collaborative spirit of Americans, showing how we can pull together for a common purpose at a time of need. Rosie the Riveter is back!

Like the ingenuity and generosity of individuals, this crisis also calls for innovation and responsiveness in the manufacturing sector. We need to drastically increase production of certified N-95 respirators and FDA-approved surgical masks! We appeal to industry to step up production Now, in the way our community has done with hand-sewn masks.

We need our government to organize and provide critical supplies for healthcare workers — to protect their health and to prevent spreading the virus to other patients.

We need immediate and widespread distribution of the necessary testing capabilities that will allow healthcare workers to stop the spread of the virus. And we critically need the equipment and ventilators that are essential to saving the lives of those who fall sick.

I implore all who read this to reach out to your elected officials, with letters, emails, and phone calls, and urge them to mobilize an organized governmental response to this crisis, and ask your friends to do the same.

We need our leaders to utilize tools, such as the Defense Production Act, to immediately increase the supply of essential and critical equipment. Otherwise, our frontline healthcare workers are going into battle without the body armor and basic tools they need to succeed.

Thank you for taking action.

Cole, DO, FAAFP, is the chief medical officer at Moab Regional Hospital. He practices family medicine with obstetrics.