Detroit area hospitals face critical supply shortage; here's how to help

March 24, 2020, 2:51 PM

As nurses relate "patients coughing in our faces" and "throwing up on us," personal protection equipment, or PPE, is still in short supply at southeast Michigan hospitals. 

Simple fabric masks are easy to make at home. (YouTube)

On Saturday, nurses speaking anonymously to the Free Press complained of doing their jobs under increasingly stressful conditions, with the most obvious complaint the lack of PPE during a fast-moving pandemic. 

The nurses said that their jobs would be at risk if they were publicly identified. 

"My division does not have N95 masks," said a Henry Ford Health System nurse who works in direct patient care, saying that her hospital is rationing supplies.

She now wears a regular surgical mask to treat patients with COVID-19 symptoms. Gowns and N95 respirator masks are being reserved for the medical staff working at the coronavirus drive-up screening tents and at hospital entrances.

"I need my job but I am risking my own health everyday now," she said. "Honest to goodness, it’s getting worse day by day.

Others are echoing their concerns. In a Bridge Magazine piece about how hospitals are coping as they near capacity, with many patients either tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, or with symptoms, awaiting test results.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter told Bridge Magazine he heard a  similar message from representatives from the county’s half-dozen major hospital systems. While hospitals are holding ground for now, “this is going to get worse before it gets better,” he said.

“They all say the same thing. They are at a critical point already — not overwhelmed yet, but they need equipment, like, yesterday, and they are concerned that they won’t have enough employees to work because so many of them are in quarantine,” Coulter said.

Beaumont Health — Michigan’s largest health system — had 333 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 by Monday afternoon, and another 178 in the hospital awaiting test results. More than 300 more patients tested positive but were sent home to recover.

Beaumont is now doing curbside testing, Bridge writes, and had conducted more than 4,500 tests by March 23, and were awaiting results on 2,200 others. 

Meanwhile, small groups of home sewers are crafting do-it-yourself surgical masks and donating them to hospitals. While lacking the N95 filters, they are a better-than-nothing solution that some health-care facilities are accepting for distribution to employees. Joann Fabrics locations around Metro Detroit are donating the fabric to home sewers, although they are currently out of the elastic, a store representative said. Check Facebook for mask-sewing groups near you. YouTube also has multiple instructional videos

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