GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In the weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic reached American shores, the shortage of personal protective equipment has been a widespread issue for overflowing emergency rooms.
Goggles, disinfectant, face shields and coveted N95 masks are in small supply compared to the need for them.
Now, Spectrum Health is prolonging the life of their PPE via three methods of sanitization and reuse.
“It’s something I’ve never seen before in my career [and] hope to never see again,” said Kurt Knoth, VP of system supply chain at Spectrum Health.
“My department has basically been turned upside down over the last couple of months.”
Knoth said the pandemic hit larger cities like New York and Detroit first, leaving cities like Grand Rapids in better shape to prepare and consolidate equipment before the peak.
“We have a good supply, but the fact of the matter is the outbreak has not presented itself yet as it has on the east side of the state. So we’re still anticipating a lot more patients,” said Knoth.
“We’re, I guess, fortunate that we’re a little bit late to this pandemic, if you look at what’s happening in New York and Detroit and Chicago. We’ve had longer to prepare.”
Spectrum is now using ultraviolet light to zap away germs on face shields, masks and goggles.
They set up that equipment in a conference room in three days time. They’re also using aerosolized hydrogen peroxide – a disinfecting cleaner – to wipe down the equipment.
Local companies Whirlpool and Gentex donated industrial-sized ovens, so Spectrum can combat germs with heat.
“We can actually heat up the N95 to 70-degrees centigrade and that’ll kill all the bad things but keep the masks so they’re reusable,” said Knoth.
“Which is really an unusual process. Usually you wear it once, you throw it away.”
Spectrum is getting five reuses out of each item it sanitizes. Knoth said he’s aware of other health groups going for 10-to-20 reuses out of their equipment.
Knoth added that these are unprecedented times in the medical community supply chain.
He said one thing he’s taken away from it is the need to bring more medical manufacturing back to the U.S., as much of the equipment we now find ourselves in need of is made overseas.
All members of Spectrum Health who are going in to work must wear a mask, regardless of job title.