PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s largest hospital system is asking medical workers to use the same protective mask for two days, as state officials continue to express concern about a potential lack of adequate protective equipment to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
A flyer circulating in Lifespan’s facilities — Rhode Island Hospital, The Miriam Hospital, Newport Hospital and Bradley Hospital — says: “Out of an abundance of caution, all staff in patient care areas will now be wearing masks.”
All employees are receiving a standard surgical mask and a paper bag for storage. “Use mask for two work days, which do not need to be consecutive,” the flyer says.
Asked about the policy, Lifespan spokesperson Jane Bruno told WPRI 12, “In order to maximize our supply of masks staff use them for two work days, which do not need to be consecutive. As we aim to conserve personal protective equipment, including masks, our infection control experts approved this plan for usage to best protect our patients and each other.”
“We want to thank our employees for their cooperation, and for their continued hard work on behalf of our patients,” she added.
A spokesperson for the United Nurses and Allied Professionals union declined to comment on how the policy is being received. Some Lifespan employees are privately expressing frustration because, while most like the policy of wearing masks during a disease outbreak, they don’t necessarily want to wear the same one for two days.
Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room doctor at Rhode Island Hospital, said Monday night that protective masks were just one of the products currently needed by hospitals and outpatient clinics nationwide, along with face shields, surgical masks, disposable gowns, test swabs, respirators, gloves and hand sanitizer.
“Praying that the supply chain comes through,” Ranney wrote on Twitter.
In a follow-up email Tuesday night, Ranney said, “Lifespan has done an incredible job of mobilizing all available resources. They are better prepared than almost every hospital in the country. But the truth is, no hospital has enough.”
“We are not ‘in the danger zone’ right now but will get there in the near future if we don’t get replenished,” she added. “And our local clinics and private offices are in far worse shape.”
A message was left with Rhode Island’s No. 2 hospital group, Care New England, for details about the policy there on masks. Care New England owns Women & Infants, Kent and Butler hospitals.
The decision by Lifespan comes as Gov. Gina Raimondo and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed both continue to warn about a shortage of personal protective equipment used by doctors and nurses to avoid coming down with COVID-19 themselves. Raimondo has also said she needs the federal government to send more swabbing kits and ventilators from the national stockpile.
During the governor’s daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, R.I. Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said of front-line health workers, “We’re working extremely hard to get them personal protective equipment, to get them support in caring for patients.”
“We have the supply of personal protective equipment that we need for our health care workers right now,” she said. “But we need to be thoughtful and we need to be judicious about how we are going forward.”
Reed said he had a “productive” phone call with Vice President Mike Pence on Monday night and stressed the same message.
“Governor Raimondo is leading and has requested additional federal supplies,” Reed said. “The vice president is aware of those requests and I urged him to grant them expeditiously.”
“I strongly urge the Trump administration to get needed supplies like masks and swabs to Rhode Island so we don’t run short,” he said. “I will continue working with all parties to improve our response capabilities. We’re in this thing together and we’re in it for the long-haul.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook
Tim White contributed to this report.