APRIL 02, 2020 11:19 AM • The Sacramento Bee;
The shortage of N95 respirators, face shields and other medical equipment forged an unlikely alliance Wednesday as labor leader April Verrett joined nursing home administrator Crystal Solorzano in pleading with President Trump to use his authority to expand production of supplies needed to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“I found myself last week in one of my nursing homes, cutting pieces of tablecloth to make a makeshift face shield,” said Solorzano, the founder and chief executive officer of ReNew Health Group, which owns and operates nursing homes in California. “We can’t do that. We are doing that, but we shouldn’t have to do that. We’re working right now to get domestic suppliers online so they can start manufacturing things that they’ve never manufactured before.”
Cecilia, who works at a ReNew health facility, said: “I’ve been working as a nurse for 16 years in this particular facility, and this is the very first time I have experienced this type of shortage of personal protective equipment. It’s just unthinkable. We have never encountered this.”
Solorzano and Pan said that, in many cases, nursing homes, hospitals and other health care facilities have standing orders for masks and other PPE arriving at docks in the United States, but when the product arrives, it is being redirected to companies that made higher bids for it.
In a survey of hospital leaders, health care improvement company Premier Inc. found that demand for N95 respirators is 17 times what it is during normal operations. For face shields, demand is up almost nine times typical usage; for isolation gowns, five times.
THIS IS AN EMERGENCY, LABOR AND EMPLOYER SAY
This is an emergency, the speakers said, and Trump needed to act yesterday to provide direction to manufacturers.
“We need the federal government, particularly the president, to step up, to hear our pleas we’re making on behalf of our patients,” said Pan, who chairs the Senate’s Health Committee. “Please, please, please step up. We need that PPE. We need a much larger supply. We need domestic production. We can’t expect it to come from overseas. We need that produced here in America, and distributed to in American facilities, and only the president has the power to make that happen.”
He and Solorzano said the federal government also must provide direction on where manufacturing supplies will be distributed, to ensure items are getting to areas where there is greatest need.
Verrett said the problem is so dangerous and so immediate that it has united workers, employers, labor union and politicians in making an appeal.
“The lack of personal protective equipment in nursing homes across the state of California, across our entire country, is putting lives in danger: the lives of residents, the lives of our members, the lives of family, the lives of workers,” Verrett said. “COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes have become a serous problem. We all saw what happened in the state of Washington, and we are watching what is happening in Yucaipa. These facilities have become ground zero in those communities. We don’t need more Yucaipas. We don’t need more of what happened in Washington.”
Fifty-one residents and six employees at a Yucaipa nursing home have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and two residents have died, San Bernardino County public health officials said earlier this week.
Verrett noted that in Los Angeles County, at least 11 skilled care facilities are being monitored due to serious concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks. That is four times the number that it was on Friday, she said.
THERE ARE VIABLE SOLUTIONS, STATE LEADER SAYS
Reyes said what’s infuriating about these outbreaks is that everyone knows there are viable solutions to prevent it.
“We are sending our frontline workers to a war zone without protection, and that cannot continue,” said Reyes, who chairs the Assembly’s Human Services Committee. “We’ve been hard at work with state and municipal governments to…provide adequate personal protective equipment for our frontline workers, and the answer that keeps coming back over and over is: We simply do not have the capacity to provide those PPE’s at scale without help from Washington. We need President Trump to act. We need our national leaders to act.”
Solorzano said that, even though, manufacturers are willing to produce N95 respirators, they can’t supplies of the material needed to make these masks. She said she and her employees have been identifying alternative types of clothing, gloves and other merchandise they can use.
“I’d like to ask President Trump to please, please, please use the Defense Production Act to help me, to help us get factories online as soon as possible,” Solorzano said. “To my knowledge, we don’t make one glove in the United States — a glove. I’ve been working with my staff to go to Sally’s Beauty Supply, to go to AutoZone, to go to all these different types of places that we wouldn’t even have imagined we would have to go to before, just to have backup supplies, just because we’re seeing the supplies diminish so much.”
Cecilia added: “We are completely out of isolation gowns). My coworkers have been driving every where to buy raincoats, which are the next best thing we can think of, but the stores are now out of raincoats, too. So we don’t know what to do. We shouldn’t have to be doing this.”
Solorzano said she noticed that supplies of PPE were running low three weeks ago when she was doing her rounds at ReNew nursing homes. That’s when she began making her calls to manufacturers and peers in her industry. No one understood they needed to elevate this concern to her level, she said, because supplies had always been there.
Her ReNew health and other health care companies have since joined a grassroots effort in the Los Angeles area aimed at using that city’s garment manufacturers to produce cloth masks for health care workers. Today, she said, every one of her workers has one of these masks and are using them to preserve supplies of N95 respirators.