As one administrator explained to OIG, “Sitting with 60 patients with presumed positives in our hospital isn’t healthy for anybody.”
Delayed test results also reduced hospitals’ ability to provide care by sidelining clinicians who reported COVID-19 symptoms. In one hospital, 20% to 25% of staff were determined to be presumptively positive for COVID-19. As a result of their tests not being analyzed promptly, these doctors and nurses were prevented from providing clinical services for longer than necessary.
The report also described some factors contributing to mask shortages. Because of the fear factor, for example, all staff members in one hospital were wearing masks, instead of just those in designated areas. An administrator said the hospital was using 2000 masks a day, 10 times the number before the COVID-19 crisis.Another hospital received 2300 N95 masks from a state reserve, but they were unusable because the elastic bands had dry-rotted.
Meanwhile, some vendors were profiteering. Masks that used to cost 50 cents now sold for $6 each, one administrator said.
To combat the supply chain disruptions, some facilities were buying PPE from nontraditional sources such as online retailers, home supply stores, paint stores, autobody supply shops, and beauty salons. Other hospitals were using non-medical-grade PPE such as construction masks and handmade masks and gowns.
Other hospitals reported they were conserving and reusing PPE to stretch their supplies. In some cases, they had even changed policies to reduce the extent and frequency of patient interactions with clinicians so the latter would have to change their gear less often.
Shortages of other critical supplies and materials were also reported. Hospitals were running out of supplies that supported patient rooms, such as IV poles, medical gas, linens, toilet paper, and food.
Hospitals across the country were also expecting or experiencing a shortage of ventilators, although none said any patients had been denied access to them. Some institutions were adapting anesthesia machines and single-use emergency transport ventilators.
Also concerning to hospitals was the shortage of intensive-care specialists and nurses to operate the ventilators and care for critically ill patients. Some facilities were training anesthesiologists, hospitalists, and other non-intensivists on how to use the lifesaving equipment.