Plastic gowns without hand holes, masks with breakable straps and child-sized rubber gloves are among the bizarre items that nursing home officials say they are being given by the federal government to help protect them and their residents amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s all so terrible, really,” Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, told HuffPost about the items his member organizations have received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “What has been supplied has been a joke, to put it kindly. The fact that they would expect our caregivers to wear garbage bags that have been repurposed as protective gowns is quite telling.”
The NHHSA’s long-term care providers are among roughly 15,000 nursing homes across the country to which FEMA has supplied personal protective equipment amid ongoing supply shortages that have placed facilities’ staff and residents at heightened risk of infection and even death.
The “hodgepodge” of goods Williams said FEMA has sent his member facilities includes large garbage-bag style plastic gowns, which some staff first mistook as body bags. The gowns feature two holes on opposite ends, for one’s legs and head, but none for hands.
“Your arm is kind of bunched up in these kind of arm extensions, and so there are no ways for your hands to get out, and that’s a bit of a problem,” he said.
A batch of disposable surgical masks are too snug for faces and feature elastic ear bands that easily break, he added. Another batch of cloth masks, produced by underwear manufacturer Hanes, are not authorized for use in a health care setting, according to the masks’ labels.
“A cough mask is fine in the community, but it’s just not acceptable in a nursing home setting,” Williams said.
Facilities also received hundreds of extra-small gloves, which “would be suitable for children, possibly, but certainly not adults that work in a health care setting,” Williams said.
Similar supplies were reportedly received by long-term care facilities in Texas and Kansas.
“It’s been nothing short of a disaster,” Katie Sloan, CEO of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services, told CBSN Dallas-Fort Worth. “Nursing homes are certainly not getting what they were promised.”
Melissa Steffan, Texas regional vice president for the Good Samaritan Society, which has long-term care facilities in more than 20 states, said her staff was more confused than disappointed by the items they received.
“We appreciate FEMA for the effort to help but what’s at question is the usefulness of it. Most of what we received is unusable,” she told CBSN.
FEMA announced in May that it would send two-week supplies of PPE to nursing homes in two shipments under the direction of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The medical gowns supplied were described by FEMA as “intended for use in basic care settings for minimal risk situations. The gowns are durable and can be washed 30 to 50 times.”
Data show that New Hampshire’s nursing homes need all the help they can get.
Nearly 82% of the state’s COVID-19-related deaths have been of people in long-term care settings, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
For its part, FEMA said it has received complaints from only 1% of the nursing homes that have received its supplies, a spokesperson told New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor this week. The complaining facilities may just not be used to the kind of items provided, which should meet the certification requirements of the Food and Drug Administration or the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, she added.
But FEMA has heard the critical feedback and has made changes to supplies that remain to be sent out, although more than half of the second round of shipments has already been delivered, a spokesperson told HuffPost in a statement Thursday,
“Based on feedback from the first round of deliveries, changes were made to the subsequent second round to include the face shields and replacing level 3 AAMI blue gowns with a more familiar disposable gown style that also meets AAMI standards,” the agency said.
Spokespersons for the FDA and AAMI did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment about the blue gown’s standards.
Instead of supplying these items, Williams said the federal government can help nursing homes by providing them with COVID-19 tests that can provide same-day results. Current tests take at least a week for results to come back, giving a test taker ample time to become infected with the virus before receiving an all-clear to return to work. Thermal screening stations won’t detect the virus in someone who is asymptomatic, he added.
For now, Williams said some of the items received may be kept “as novelties, possibly,” but will not be used by the staff of his member facilities. He credited state officials and the National Guard with supplying usable PPE to his organization’s facilities so their staff members can get by.
“It’s frustrating because somebody in [the Trump] administration is going to declare ‘mission accomplished’ when there’s an absolute failure,” he said.
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