Researchers and executives say the United States’ supply of PPE is much better now than it was in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, but problems remain.

For example, ECRI analyzed imported KN95 masks. They found up to 70% of these devices do not meet U.S. standards for effectiveness, suggesting future supply demands could be affected this winter.1 Despite more domestic production of N95 masks, health systems continue to report widespread shortages, causing providers to rely on imported KN95 masks from several manufacturers that were newly registered in China.

The American Medical Association (AMA) sent a letter to FEMA, expressing concern about the availability of PPE for clinicians in office-based settings. “Strains on the supply chain for PPE and disinfectant products continue, and they simply are not available from the usual sources for physician’s use,” the letter reads.2

The letter implores FEMA to work with the AMA to provide additional assistance to healthcare providers in securing PPE and to collect and disseminate supply chain information to address concerns. (Editor’s Note: Same-Day Surgery requested an update from the AMA on whether FEMA had responded to any of the organization’s concerns and suggestions. Through a spokesman, the AMA declined to comment further on this issue.)

Medical products that continue to be in high demand but low in supply include shoe covers, isolation gowns, and bouffant caps, among others.3 Surgery centers should create a pandemic plan that addresses their entire supply chain, says Scott Jackson, executive director of Henry Schein Surgical Solutions of Melville, NY.

“Ambulatory surgery centers [ASCs] should speak with supplier partners and other ASC leaders to gain new ideas,” he offers.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. healthcare industry did not clearly understand the origins of raw products that combine to make PPE, says Chaun Powell, MBA, group vice president of strategic supplier engagement for Premier Inc.

“A tsunami might not have an impact on the supply chain if there are 10 different [supply] locations across the globe,” Powell says. “But we were heavily reliant on a concentrated geography for several different products, including the raw material used in masks.”

Specifically, there are plenty of raw products needed for certain PPE that originate in China. But they were the first to deal with COVID-19, which disrupted China’s industrial production patterns, causing a ripple effect.

The pandemic has revealed just how fragile and interconnected the global supply chain is — and in ways many may not even recognize. Consider isopropyl alcohol wipes, which remain in short supply. Why? Thousands of items, including rubbing alcohol antiseptic, hand sanitizer, and drugs, contain isopropyl alcohol, which is a byproduct of fuel production.

“In that regard, shutting down [travel] produced more supply scarcity,” Powell notes. “We are in a decent place with isopropyl production, but there is less supply than we would like to see in the industry today.”

REFERENCES

  1. ECRI. Up to 70% of Chinese KN95 masks tested by ECRI don’t meet minimum standards. Sept. 22, 2020.
  2. American Medical Association. Letter to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor. June 30, 2020.
  3. Henry Schein. Rebuilding Together. A Guide for Ambulatory Surgery Centers. July 22, 2020.