Johnson County puts out call for contingency personal protective equipment as hospitals brace for spike in need

N-95 masks will be in high demand across the country as the number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization increases. Photo credit Alamosa County Public Health. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Johnson County’s largest hospitals are taking steps to conserve personal protective equipment as a worldwide shortage of masks, shields and gowns looms. But although they expect to be using more such equipment in the coming days, spokespeople said they have what they need for the time being.

Meanwhile the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment has begun accepting home-sewn face masks, which will be distributed to healthcare workers and first responders who need them.

HCA Midwest Health started emergency planning months ago and is taking a number of steps to conserve the equipment. “We are doing everything possible to secure products, as the worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, face shields, and gowns is a reality that we are addressing with realistic, workable solutions,” the health network’s officials said today in a written response to questions. Overland Park Regional Medical Center and Menorah Medical Center are part of that network.

The network’s hospitals will try to conserve the higher-level equipment by not providing more protection than the situation warrants. To that end, they will use N95s and standard face masks, officials said. “Since COVID-19 is spread by droplets, in most instances standard face mask offer adequate protection.”

The hospitals also will take other steps to prioritize scheduled procedures to keep resources open for what could be an influx of cases. All non-essential surgery procedures have been cancelled, and HCA Midwest will evaluate other procedures as they come in, the statement said.

Advent Health Shawnee Mission and St. Joseph Medical Center also see an increased need for protective equipment but say they have enough for the time being. Advent Health has more equipment on order that should come soon, said spokesperson Morgan Shandler. The hospital has received donations of N95 masks, and asks anyone who has more to consider donating them to nursing homes and senior living facilities.

Home sewn masks are part of contingency planning

None of the officials contacted said they have an immediate need for the home-sewn masks the county health department is collecting.

The home-sewn masks are part of a contingency plan in case the shortage becomes so severe that other options aren’t available. Med-Act has had surgical masks and N95s on back order for months and still has a supply, a county news release said. The cloth masks would come into play only if the county can’t get more of the disposable surgical masks.

“The county hopes it will not need to use the cloth masks, however a cloth mask is better than no mask at all when it comes to protecting patients and responders,” said a news release on the county’s website.

But there are other reasons the homemade masks might help, and so far there has been an interest from the public in making them, said Sam Theis-Damian, a support staff member at the health department.

Sewn masks cannot replace the N95s, but they could take some of the pressure off the supply even if hospitals don’t end up using them. In fact, the county may distribute the masks to doctors’ offices and nursing homes, as well as fire, ambulance and police, she said.

The cloth masks, which would be similar to disposable surgical masks, wouldn’t provide as high a level of protection as the N95s and powered air purifying respirators used for high-risk cases. But they might help the county conserve those types of filtration should they become in short supply.

The health department is so far only collecting the masks and has not yet begun to distribute them. As of Tuesday morning, the county had received around 50 masks. But people are beginning to latch on to the idea. Joann Fabrics and Crafts of Overland Park has been answering a lot of calls on the subject. The store is working on an idea to supply mask kits that people could complete which would then be donated, said an official there. But first the store will have to get a new shipment of elastic.

The county does not provide materials for the masks. People who want to make them need to find their own fabric and elastic, Theis-Damian said. Only finished masks will be accepted and they can be from any “cloth surgical mask” pattern. Thick fabrics are preferred, as are elastic loops, and donors are advised to avoid stretchy fabrics.

The masks will be accepted in a basket from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Johnson County Med-Act station, 205 E. Flaming Road, Olathe.

An abundance of patterns and YouTube tutorials can be found online.