The COVD-19 global pandemic has placed a large demand on personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. N-95 respirators, required to perform aerosolizing procedures, are in short supply and have increased significantly in cost. The lack of a clear end to the pandemic requires hospitals to create a long-term, cost effective solution to the N95 shortage. We initially used previously described methods to reuse and resterilize N95 masks; however, we found they did not solve the issues related to just-in-time fit-testing and cost.
We initiated a program with the aim to reduce our dependence on N95 masks by initiating a phased program to acquire industrial style elastomeric P100 masks as a substitute for reuse and resterilization of disposable N95s. We created an allocation strategy based on availability of the masks, as well as an operational plan to fit test, educate, and disinfect the masks.
Within 1 month, we were able to reduce the number of N95s needed by our network by 95%. We also found that the cost was, conservatively, 10 times less per month than purchasing disposable N95s, and the cost benefit increases the longer they are needed.
Establishment of an elastomeric mask program is feasible and less expensive than programs focused on reusing and disinfecting disposable N95 masks. A well thought out elastomeric distribution and disinfection program does not pose greater operational challenges than an N95 reuse and resterilization program. In addition, elastomeric masks can be stored for future surges and should be considered an essential part of all healthcare facilities’ supply of personal protective equipment. Implementation of the program has eliminated our dependence on disposable N95s to maintain normal operations during the global pandemic.