LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — As coronavirus cases climb in Kentucky, hospitals in Louisville say they have enough masks, gloves and other critical gear for health care workers – for now.
Officials at the city’s major health care systems — Baptist Health, Norton Healthcare and U of L Health — declined to say how long their existing caches of personal protective equipment might last. But Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said last Friday that the hospitals had several weeks’ worth of equipment.
At Norton Healthcare, which operates six hospitals in Jefferson County, maintaining adequate supplies is “a serious situation” that has prompted the company to look for new providers, spokeswoman Maggie Roetker said.
She said Norton has received donations of the tight-fitting N95 masks that filter airborne particles, as well as other equipment, from medical providers, construction firms and schools.
“We expect to see the number of patients needing care increase drastically and we’re doing all we can to make sure we have what we need to care for them,” she said.
The rapid rise in cases of the COVID-19 illness has put pressure on hospitals, urgent care centers, first responders and others to have proper gear to take care of sick or presumed sick patients. As of Monday, there were 28 confirmed cases in Louisville, but city officials warn to expect many more.
“If the numbers come here that we expect to come, we will be challenged when it comes to having adequate PPE,” Fischer said last week, describing a scenario in which “our health care system will be quickly challenged.”
Louisville’s recent allotment from a national stockpile of PPEs is being prioritized: Nursing home and other long-term care facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19; hospitals with the most cases; EMS and first responders who interact with people with the illness; and health care workers at care facilities with stricken patients.
Fischer spokeswoman Jean Porter said a Metro government team is talking to companies and organizations about making gear available to hospitals and health care workers, while the city’s Louisville Forward economic development agency is identifying manufacturers, suppliers and others to manufacture or provide PPEs.
U of L Health has begun conserving its gear under guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to make sure we continue to have an adequate supply,” spokeswoman Carolyn Callahan said.
The health care system’s supply chain representatives are tapping state and national resources and working with existing suppliers to get more gear, she said.
Baptist Health also is trying to add more supplies, spokeswoman Julie Garrison said, with the N95 masks a “foremost priority.”
“While we have the bed capacity, staffing, supplies and equipment we need at this time, we continue to plan by accessing the resources, support and best practices across our system to help ensure we remain able to meet the needs of the communities we serve as the situation continues to evolve,” she said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that the state is preparing to do a survey of outpatient surgical centers and their supplies.
“We know that if we see a surge of cases, we want to know where every piece of equipment is in this state,” he said, adding that it’s an effort to “marshal every single resource at a time of need here in Kentucky.”
Beshear said there is a “critical shortage” of PPEs in Kentucky and across the U.S. While he said he’s working to buy as much for the state as possible, Kentucky often is bidding against other states or even the federal government.
“We are having some success. It is not the level that we’d like to see – and no state is having that,” Beshear said. “But we’re fighting for it every single day.”
Beshear said he doesn’t have an estimated figure on how many days of PPEs Kentucky hospitals have remaining.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday made public a letter he wrote to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, urging him to “work with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear as his administration requests additional PPE and test kits from your department.
“It is imperative that Kentucky’s hospitals, community health centers, nursing homes, and other critical providers have access to this equipment to care for patients while stopping the spread of the coronavirus in the Commonwealth,” McConnell wrote.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has begun collecting PPEs and distributing them to state emergency management officials, including 2,000 N95 masks donated from Toyota, said Ashli Watts, the chamber’s president and CEO.
In the past two days, she said, about 60 businesses have promised supplies that are being delivered.
“We have been overwhelmed with the amount of support and materials put forth,” she said.
Business that wish to donate can go to kychamber.com/news/coronavirus/ppe.
Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, email@example.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.