Forrest General Continues to Take Proactive Approach Regarding PPE Supplies
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (April 13, 2020) Healthcare professionals at Forrest General Hospital are doing their part to help prolong personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks, during a time when critical supplies are scarce nationally, and when front-line employees are exposed to highly-infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
Denise Jones-Lindley, MSN/MBA, director of Surgical Services, has implemented a plan with the help of Andrew Khandijian, director of Environmental Services, whereby N95 masks are being decontaminated using vaporized hydrogen peroxide and heat during a 30-minute sterilization process. These cleanings are being conducted in Central Sterile, a highly-sterile environment in the hospital where surgical instruments and other supplies are sterilized prior to delivery to operating suites.
Jones-Lindley recently developed the process after reading a 2016 study by the FDA. The following day, Duke University publicized they were conducting the same sort of cleaning process, which provided encouragement to Jones that she was on the right path.
“While the process might have been my idea, there was no way it could have been carried out without the help of those workers in Central Sterile – manager Deedra Davis and her staff,” Jones-Lindley said.
The masks are packaged in a sterilization pack by the person wearing it, with their name on it, then put into a container to be transported to Central Sterile. In Central Sterile, employees such as Chasity Oliver and Shon Tyler, don gowns, two pairs of gloves, masks and a shield. At that point, tape is placed on each package prior to undergoing the 30-minute sterilization process, about 50 masks at a time. During the process, the autoclave reaches 120 degrees and vaporized hydrogen peroxide penetrates through the back of the pouch to clean the enclosed mask. At the end of the process, the tape turns yellow, which indicates the mask is clean. An indicator strip placed inside the bag also serves as a backup to the tape. Masks are then couriered up to each floor at which time the owner marks a small tally on the mask binding to indicate the number of times it’s been cleaned.
Jones-Lindley estimates when the process is in full swing, they will be sterilizing about 300 to 400 masks a day.
The filter is good for up to about 50 cleanings, according to literature Jones has pored over. “The elastic starts to give away at about 30 cleanings, so we chose 25 as the maximum times a mask is sterilized. It’s also believed that the mask loses about five percent of its efficacy through the cleaning process,” she said.
While the process has been tested with other masks, the N95 is in highest demand due to a supply shortage. The N95 was originally made for use with tuberculosis patients. Placing a protective mask over the N95 protects it from gross contaminants and from getting soiled.
“We need to protect these as much as we can,” Jones-Lindley said.
Currently, the cleaning of masks is being done for those who come into contact with people, including direct care nurses, anyone taking care of COVID-19 patients, emergency room employees, high-risk personnel and pharmacy techs, among others.
Jones-Lindley is quick to admit that this process is not the preferred during normal operations, but the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Although Forrest Health’s number of N95 PPE Masks in inventory is adequate for now, “we need to get as much use out of each mask as possible since the manufacturers cannot produce them fast enough to keep up with the demand.”
According to Jones-Lindley, “This is what we have right now. I was really just trying to find a practice that would help the caregivers and patients.”