It was in March 2020 when some of the systemic effects of the global pandemic became apparent. On Friday, the 13th of that month, a convergence of ideas and need resulted in a conversation that brought hope for extending the country’s dwindling supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Battelle had the technology to decontaminate N95 respirators. A Columbus not-for-profit, OhioHealth, was realizing that its 12 hospitals and 200+ ambulatory sites, hospice, home health, medical equipment and other health services might run out of the masks that kept its associates safe.
Dr. Doug Knutson is OhioHealth’s Vice President of Quality and Patient Safety. He said as OhioHealth stood up its command center in response to expected COVID-19 illnesses, keeping patients and associates safe was a significant workstream—and the supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic left questions about if and when any new N95s would be coming. “We got very concerned,” he said. “This could be bad, and it was only March. Our supply was falling very short of our anticipated demand.”
Then, the convergence. Dr. Laurie Hommema told Dr. Knutson about the Battelle idea for a decontamination system for N95s. That weekend, high-level meetings between leadership groups prompted Battelle to demonstrate how fast it could provide a solution. On its own dime, Battelle developed an operational prototype Critical Care Decontamination SystemTM in about a week.
Hopeful, the teams at OhioHealth began collecting used N95s from associates in anticipation that they might be reused. Successful field tests gave way to FDA approval in April and OhioHealth was the original hospital system to use the decontamination system. “It’s really been a game-changer for us,” he said. “In addition to extending the use, it gave us time to look into other supply chain channels for N95s. The process gave us the gift of time.”
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While OhioHealth identified different models of N95s for use, and fit tested associates for new models (OhioHealth has done more than 22,000 fit test for associates since March), decontaminated masks from Battelle helped ensure associate safety. “Our current mask strategy includes reprocessed and new masks. Without the reprocessed masks, we would have put our associates at risk, and they could have been seeing COVID patients without the proper PPE. Without the Battelle process, we most assuredly would have run out,” said Dr. Knutson.
Dr. Knutson said having enough N95s alleviated fear and anxiety for the staff. “If you’re going in with an N95 mask you know you’re following the most appropriate guidelines for personal protection,” he said. “Based on their supply of N95s, a lot of my colleagues across the country are not so lucky.”
That supply, he said, helped improve the culture. “Our associates know we are doing our best to keep them safe.”
But that’s not to say that reprocessed masks didn’t have a few detractors. “But even those people appreciated the fact that we were doing this,” he said. “At the end of the day, our issues with the reprocessed masks have been extremely minimal.”
Dr. Knutson has an N95 meeting every Monday. “In this last one,” he said, “we shared that we have more than 90 days of supply, and the reason for this is because of the Battelle decontamination process. Without Battelle, this would not have been possible.”