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Nurses Feel The Strain Of Coronavirus Pandemic Amid PPE Shortages

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Eye On Ohio
Hospitals around the state are working together to maintain high levels of patient care despite the state's shortage of PPE and adequate COVID-19 testing.

Even as conversations are happening around reopening the state’s economy, Gov. Mike DeWine stresses the change will be gradual. And right now, it remains critical for the state to boost its supply of COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment known as PPE.

The ongoing uncertainty around the availability of PPE in Ohio is an added everyday stress for nurses on the frontlines of the pandemic.

The Ohio Hospital Association recently put out guidelines urging medical facilities statewide to prepare for a surge in patients. They include suggestions for medical centers to evaluate their numbers of staff and internal staffing procedures, number of ventilators, ICU beds, gowns, masks and other protective gear.

The PPE is critical to protecting health-care workers, who already make up nearly a quarter of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Registered nurse Michelle Thoman, who works in specialty surgery at The University of Cincinnati Medical Center, is president of the Ohio Nurses Association-affiliated local the Registered Nurses Association, and represents around 1,700 nurses.

COVID-19 patients in the ICU are sicker than most typical ICU patients, Thoman says. And the pandemic has increased nurses’ workload as they cap the number of people caring for COVID-19 patients to conserve PPE.

“Currently it’s not really being communicated to us as to what the levels of PPE are. That is something that is incredibly challenging," she says. "Our nurses are really faced with, when we get to work, especially when we have that surge of patients, we don't know if we're going to have enough personal protective equipment. The thought of every day I walk into work, [I think] OK, am I going to have enough PPE? I think that's something nurses and other frontline health care workers should know and be aware of is how much PPE do we really have left and when is that challenge going to hit us for that?" 

See the state's case numbers at the Ohio Department of Health website.

Hospital officials say they're closely monitoring supplies of PPE as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grows.

DeWine has described the state’s effort to find enough PPE as “an everyday battle.” In a press briefing Thursday, the governor told reporters he’s hopeful that as the pandemic wears on, the manufacturing and distribution of PPE would go up.

For now, hospitals are doing what they can to stretch their supplies.

And, says John Palmer, spokesman with the Ohio Hospital Association, the association advises  its more than 235 hospitals to put special triage plans in place, prepare for more COVID-19 patients and coordinate daily with other nearby hospitals.

"And as they navigate this pandemic and prepare their staff and and their institutions for the potential surges that are on the horizon here in the coming days and weeks," he says, "if we find one particular hospital being inundated with a lot of patients, if you have a large group of COVID-19 patients requiring ventilators but a small supply, looking at other opportunities nearby for supplies that can be acquired quickly to satisfy some of that need or look at what other options could be taken."