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Health workers told to conserve masks, gowns, goggles

Posted: 9:46 PM, Mar 20, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-21 18:08:32-04
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PHOENIX — Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus, and some are telling ABC15 that policies in place to conserve the use of masks, gowns, and other equipment could endanger their health.

Several Banner hospital employees reached out to ABC15 this week expressing their concerns, but they declined to be quoted or interviewed on camera because they worried they could be fired.

Two sources provided copies of a Banner usage guide for "conservation" of personal protective equipment. The document said employees should not wear PPE in hallways, and to avoid contaminating themselves, they should mask certain ill patients so their respiratory droplets don't spread.

The Banner guide said employees could wear the same gown while attending to multiple patients as long it was not "visibly soiled or contaminated." In addition, employees were told they should sanitize and reuse face shields with an alcohol wipe, and N95 respirator masks should be used very sparingly and reused.

An Ahwatukee family practitioner, Dr. Joy Wolfe, was willing to speak publicly, after hearing concerns of friends at Banner and other health facilities.

"This is a respiratory spread virus," Dr. Wolfe said. "It could be on any subject that you come in contact with, or any substance, or even the cloth gown you are in. We know this virus can live for many hours outside the body."

Dr. Wolfe said she won’t see people in her office who are currently ill due to a low supply of PPE and virus test kits that can be used for COVID-19. She added her practice will remain open to treat other medical ailments and conditions, like headaches, blood pressure issues, and muscle sprains.

"As we realized things became critical, we opted to not put patients or staff in any further jeopardy until we could hopefully obtain more gear," said Dr. Wolfe.

A Banner Health spokeswoman responded to ABC15's request in an email, saying employees are their "most valuable resource."

Banner's statement also said, "Our infection prevention experts are making use of recommendations based on evidence-based guidelines. These recommendations are intended to keep health care workers safe and avoid unnecessary use to preserve PPE."

According to Banner, employees who contract COVID-19 will be paid in full for 14 days without having to dip into sick pay or vacation time.