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The Role for Hospitals and Health Systems in Fixing the Broken PPE Supply Chain

Journal of Hospital Medicine
By Tara Lagu, MD, MPH. Andrew W Artenstein, MD. Rachel M Werner, MD, PhD.
August 19, 2020

The story of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in the United States has been defined, in part, by a persistent shortage of medical supplies that has made it difficult and dangerous for healthcare workers to care for infected patients. States, health systems, and even individual hospitals are currently competing against one another—sometimes at auction—to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE). This “Wild West” scenario has resulted in bizarre stories involving attempts to obtain PPE. One health system recently described a James Bond–like pursuit of essential PPE, complete with a covert trip to an industrial warehouse, trucks filled with masks but labeled as food delivery vehicles, and an intervention by a United States congressman. Many states have experienced analogous, but still atypical, stories: masks flown in from China using the private jet of a professional sports team owner, widespread use of novel sterilization modalities to allow PPE reuse, and one attempt to purchase price-gouged PPE from the host of the show “Shark Tank.” In some cases, hospitals and healthcare workers have pleaded for PPE on fundraising and social media sites.

These profound deviations from operations of contemporary health system supply chains would have seemed beyond belief just a few months ago. Instead, they now echo the collective experiences of healthcare stakeholders trying to obtain PPE to protect their frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.