Finding enough masks and other equipment to protect staff and residents is getting more challenging for Colorado nursing homes as a third wave of COVID-19 cases continues to build.
It was easier to buy protective equipment over the summer, as the first global wave of coronavirus cases eased, said Doug Farmer, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group. Over the last few weeks, however, there’s been something of a repeat of the spring rush to build stockpiles, in response to projections that the virus will spread widely this winter, he said.
“I think most are trying to stockpile,” he said.
A report from Colorado Public Interest Research Group found that nursing homes struggled to build stockpiles even during the relative lull in cases over the summer. Data filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in late August, after the July wave of cases in the South had started to subside, found about one in five Colorado nursing homes had no more than a one-week supply of N95 masks, and 8% had none on hand. N95s filter most particles from the air and provide more protection to users than paper surgical masks or homemade cloth ones.
Nationwide, about 17% of nursing homes had a one-week supply of N95 masks, or less, with the biggest shortages in New Mexico and New England.
While getting enough N95s was the most common issue, smaller numbers of homes in Colorado reported they were short of surgical masks, eye protection, gowns to be worn over scrubs around contagious patients, gloves and hand sanitizer.
“It’s maddening that we’re this far into a pandemic and we’re still struggling to get supplies to our most vulnerable populations,” said Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG. “One week’s supply can be wiped out in one outbreak.”
The nursing home association recently placed a bulk order for its member homes, which may ease some of the strain, Farmer said. It can be particularly difficult for small buyers to get what they need when suppliers have more demand than they can meet, he said.
“When you make a bulk purchase, you’re able to get better prices and better delivery times,” he said.
Katz thinks a more radical solution, like using the Defense Production Act to force companies to make protective equipment, may be necessary to prevent recurring shortages.
“We need to get every nursing home reporting they are fully stocked with” personal protective equipment, he said.
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