Health Workers Resort To Etsy, Learning Chinese, and Shady Deals To Find Safety Gear

June 15, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under COVID-19 for Employers, COVID-19 for the Workforce

Last modified June 16, 2020

Community clinics, nursing homes, and independent doctors, in particular, find themselves on the fringe of the supply chain for masks, gowns, gloves and ventilators. In this recently published article, Kaiser Health News examines the extremes health workers are having to endure in order to get necessary safety gear.

A nursing home worker in New Jersey rendezvoused with “the parking lot guy” to cut a deal for gowns. A director of safety-net clinics in Florida learned basic Chinese and waited outside past midnight for a truck to arrive with tens of thousands of masks. A cardiologist in South Carolina tried his luck with “shady characters” to buy ingredients to blend his own hand sanitizer.

Most medical supplies ― from isolation gowns to the filtration components of N95 masks ― originate in China, in vast factories that manufacture so-called spunbond polypropylene out of toxic chemicals. The system crumbled in the midst of the pandemic as countries, states, cities and health care providers all sought the same things at the same time.

International Community Health Services (ICHS), a nonprofit health center in Seattle, depends on LabCorp for nasal swabs needed for testing but recently has been receiving oral swabs instead. Over the past two months, to alleviate shortages of various supplies, the organization “had to get extremely creative,” said Rachel Koh, chief operating officer. They tried to get equipment from Hungary, “but that didn’t really work out,” Koh said. In the end, an ICHS physician knew a local businessman who knew an international distributor in Hong Kong, who could coordinate the logistics and arrange to import the supplies they needed.

“We are always on the hunt for new suppliers,” Koh said, “but you have to be brave, because you don’t know [whom] you can trust anymore.”

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