The rhetoric of “just a few more weeks” lasted for over a year, so why aren’t we planning for the future? Why are our plans still “temporary?” Why are we still basing personal protective equipment (PPE) and supply purchases on short-term “crisis” needs, and not looking to the future of sustainable, lower cost PPE with consistent, stable, long-term supply?
The government procured what turned out to be poor-quality PPE for their national stockpile, but have not said how they plan to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Clinicians and essential workers are being touted as “heroes” for their sacrifice while they work to keep patients alive, yet they themselves are tired, overworked, underpaid, risking their lives, and in some cases, losing their lives. Why aren’t we planning ahead for their long-term safety?
There are U.S.-based PPE manufacturers out there with the ability to supply tested, superior protection for the long-term getting brushed off because buyers are not thinking of protecting their staff beyond the next 2-3 months. Many of these manufacturers were supported by local governments and organizations to build capacity and go to market, but without the support of incoming sales, many are struggling to stay afloat after putting their own investments toward infrastructure to help with PPE supply during an international crisis. If we have learned anything at all over the past year, it’s that the future of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic (and other viral threats) is uncertain and will have an impact on healthcare for the foreseeable future. Vaccines may be moving the needle toward “normalcy” in everyday life, but hospitals and healthcare facilities will be the place where risk is high and can only be mitigated with proper safety supplies.
So, what is the answer? We have to look at sustainability. We have to look at better protection. We have to look at the stability of manufacturing and supply. We have to think back to grade school when we were taught to reduce, reuse and recycle. Reusable PPE is how to combat the risk of volatile supply. The easiest place to start is reusable isolation gowns.
Reusable PPE is one-tenth the cost of high-quality disposable PPE
Studies in 2012, 2015, 2018 and 2020 all show the facets of how a reusable system protects better, costs less, is better for the environment and creates a stable supply chain
· 100 uses of high-quality disposables = $400 (minimum $200 for lower quality/overseas made)
· 100 uses of high-quality, American made reusable PPE =$20 - $40 (1/10th the cost)
• 28% lower natural resource energy consumption
• 30% lower greenhouse gas emissions (measured as CO2 emissions)
• 41% lower total water consumed (blue water)
• 93-99% lower solid waste generation at healthcare facilities
Manufacturing and storage:
1/100th of the manufacturing and storage resources needed per use
Just think – if you only have to buy one gown for every 100 uses, that’s 100 times less product that must be manufactured to provide the same amount of protection – freeing up time, storage and manufacturing. And, since reusables are proving to be safer - there’s no reason not to switch.
Support U.S.-based small businesses
Beyond the benefits of reusable PPE being a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, cost-saving solution, it also has the potential to ramp up support for smaller, U.S. manufacturers of materials and finished goods. Many local manufacturers refocused their attention to help during the pandemic, and we have an opportunity to take advantage of what has been learned over the past year to really support the growth of American-made products. With President Biden’s Buy American Program, there is an opportunity for these smaller companies to provide American-made goods to the government for the national stockpile, and with a stockpile focused on reusables, that money could protect more people for more time, allowing time to catch up to crisis level manufacturing when another spike of COVID-19 or a novel virus hits. It’s an opportunity to plan ahead and look at the bigger picture.
We have the opportunity to future-proof the PPE supply, support small U.S. businesses, lower costs of the stockpile and reduce the environmental footprint, all while providing superior protection for essential workers. It’s time to look beyond the end of our noses. Look at your priorities; learn from your fumbles; put the safety of essential workers first. Put sustainable safety first.