A federal government plan to combat the coronavirus warned policymakers that a pandemic “will last 18 months or longer” and could include “multiple waves,” resulting in widespread shortages that would strain consumers and the nation’s health care system to a degree never before seen. Today we are in the midst of the first wave, and while our doctors, nurses and staff are ready to handle the influx, my fear is that we won’t have the supplies to protect them from this virus.
The 100-page plan laid out a grim prognosis for the spread of the virus and outlined a response that would activate agencies across the government and potentially employ special presidential powers to mobilize the private sector. It suggested that we are “at war” with this pandemic. Even the rosiest predictions are grim.
Among the shortages listed in this report was PPE. It stands for personal protective equipment: things like masks, face-shields and gowns that protect the wearer. As the first wave of this pandemic breaches our communities, without an immediate influx of PPE into our health care system, doctors and nurses will be among the victims, crippling our ability to provide care to our community.
Among the “additional key federal decisions” listed among the options for President Donald Trump was invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, a Korean War-era law that authorizes a president to take extraordinary action to force American industry to ramp up production of critical equipment and supplies such as ventilators, respirators and protective gear for health care workers. Government intervention is required to ensure that these tools are available to meet current needs as quickly as is possible. In the strongest terms, we are urging the president to use the Defense Production Act to emergently produce PPE, as supplies are already at critically low levels.
If we don’t have PPE, we don’t have a workforce. In normal times, health care workers are among the most trusted workforce in America. In a crisis we rely on them even more. It is critically important that the federal government provide immediate reassurance that we have a sustainable supply of PPE. If we don’t deliver PPE to them now, we will be telling them we have failed as a country to protect them. Inaction by the president will imperil our ability to deliver care to millions of Americans during their time of greatest need. Even though health systems across America have been stockpiling and preparing for decades, most are now running very low.
Our staff are scared. They are smart people. They read the statistics and know what’s coming. Uncertainty surrounding the availability of PPE is damaging to those we will most rely on to take care of our sick patients.
Specifically, we request the president to consider the following:
1. We need a massive influx of PPE immediately (release DOD stockpile)
2. We need reassurance from him that we will be able to maintain supplies (so it is safe to come to work)
3. We need the federal government to do everything possible to secure as much PPE as possible (invoke DPA)
4. We need to assume health care workers, willing to put themselves selflessly in harm’s way, will require some form of PPE at all times. (secure truly massive supply from all sources)
In short, we are at a critical juncture. We cannot wait. We would never think of sending our troops into battle without proper gear. Our doctors, nurses and staff are entering the fray selflessly, putting their lives on the line. But their lives shouldn’t be on the line, we should not send our health care workers into battle without the proper gear. We strongly urge that the DPA be invoked without delay.
Bruce A. Meyer is the president of Jefferson Health, while Jonathan L. Gleason is the chief quality officer.
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