LANGHORNE, Pa. (CBS) — Local health care workers are on the front line of the fight against the coronavirus, but some are saying they’re facing severe supply shortages. One worker, fearing her life is in jeopardy while treating patients, told CBS3 on Saturday they’re dangerously low on N95 masks.
Dr. Jose Torrades, an ER physician at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, spoke with CBS3 on Sunday.
“What we’re seeing right now on the front lines is that we are quickly running out of personal protective equipment, otherwise known as PPE,” Torrades said, “and I think right now at the provider level — both EMS and doctors and nurses — is that we need to not leave our providers short.”
Torrades says doctors and nurses at St. Mary Medical Center are forced to find ways to repurpose N95 masks originally made for single-use. He says they’re putting them in paper bags and letting them air out.
“To be honest, a number of my colleagues have even looked into YouTube videos on how to clean or reuse our equipment,” Torrades said. “If you ask anybody in a situation of calm and with plenty of resources and time, anybody would tell you that is not what is expected to keep our community safe.”
If health care workers are not protected with proper PPE, Torrades says “we’re in trouble.”
“We need to think ahead and we need to think boldly,” he said. “It’s a combination of having more ventilators, it’s a combination of having beds, having enough contingency staffing models if a lot of providers go sick because it’s not just about flattening the curve, but also bringing that flat line up.
“There’s people listening in your newsroom. People will know people who will die if we do not act quickly and bravely and that’s the situation we’re facing right now.
While protecting the medical workers’ health is imperative, Torrades says there’s another issue in play.
“If we don’t have enough ventilators or enough beds for the sickest patients, your doctors are going to be in a difficult position of having to choose what patients get the ventilator, which is shown to increase survival odds,” Torrades said. “We’re going to be put in very difficult situations if we do not act quickly.”
Torrades described the mood in his ER as “a little bit a calm before the storm” as most appear to have heeded the advice to stay home.
“We need to save lives and we need to think about our providers,” Torrades said. “We’re nervous. We’re scared because we don’t have enough equipment. This is not any one hospital, this is countrywide.”
Gov. Tom Wolf was asked Sunday what Pennsylvania is doing about personal protection equipment.
Wolf says conversations continue with the federal government.
“We’re also looking and I’ve had conversations with manufacturers who are hoping they can repurpose their manufacturing lines to produce these masks,” Wolf said. “If we don’t find those, the question is absolutely right. The health care workers will be put in harm’s way, and we cannot afford that.”
Meanwhile, members of the Langhorne community donated N95 masks and other supplies to St. Mary Medical Center on Sunday.
CBS3’s Joe Holden contributed to this report.