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Got Extra Masks Or Goggles? Mass. Hospitals Already Running Short, Ask For Donations

Clinical Care Technician John Martin pulls on gloves at protective equipment training session at Tufts Medical Center. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Clinical Care Technician John Martin pulls on gloves at protective equipment training session at Tufts Medical Center. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

If you have safety goggles of the type used for chemistry lab or woodshop, Cambridge Health Alliance asks you to consider donating them. The community health system north of Boston says it is facing a shortage of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment.

"This is an unprecedented and unpredictable crisis," the statement says, "and we are pursuing different avenues to bolster and preserve our supplies so that we can meet the critical need and support our frontline staff." Cambridge Health Alliance is asking for masks, paper protective gowns and protective glasses.

At the Tufts University School of Medicine, researchers got an email Monday asking them to help out their affiliated hospital, Tufts Medical Center. It is in "critical need" of personal protective equipment such as masks and other supplies, including culture swabs and sterile tubes, the email said. "We ask that all laboratories review their current inventory and identify items that can be donated."

At Brigham and Women's Hospital on Tuesday, nursing leaders said many of the hospital’s 3,600 nurses have been using their social media ties to solicit donations of personal protective equipment for fear the hospital would run short. The hospital is working with the nurses to inventory those donations.

“We have to hope we’re going to have enough," said Trish Powers, chair of the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s bargaining unit at the hospital. "I don’t know if we will."

She also confirmed reports that Brigham nurses have been re-using protective face masks, and said it was a responsible strategy to conserve equipment that could run short.

“I’m praying, I’m hoping that we don’t end up like Italy, but what if we do?” She said. “So we have to be responsible in that regard."

She said it’s not clear why the shortage developed “and that will be for others to figure out after the crisis is over.”

She spoke at a virtual press conference where hospital officials said the nurses and the hospital were collaborating on efforts to conserve protective equipment.

Chief nursing officer Madelyn Pearson did not address the origins of the shortage, but said masks can be re-used in certain situations — for example, if a mask is not soiled or wet, it can be worn until the end of a shift, she said.

"We're really trying to conserve this resource because we are in this for the long run," Pearson said.

Masks and respirators do not generally lend themselves to re-use "because they work by trapping harmful particles inside the mesh of fibers of which they are made," a federal report says. Federal guidance for limited re-use of N95 respirator masks is here, and also warns about contamination risks.

Community health centers in the state have reached out to the large-scale aid group Direct Relief for health-care supplies, WBUR's Martha Bebinger reported.

The Trump administration on Tuesday asked American construction companies to donate their respirator masks to help health-care staffers who need protection from the virus.

In response, the Boston construction giant Suffolk said it would donate more than 1,250 masks to Mass General Brigham — the state's biggest hospital chain, formerly known as Partners Healthcare.

"We have also reached out to other construction companies in the region to encourage them to donate their masks to local hospitals to assist in this effort," the Suffolk statement said.

The Massachusetts state site for donating gear is here.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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