Hospitals Struggle With Testing, Protective Gear, Report Finds

Testing for Covid-19 and keeping staff safe amid severe shortages of protective equipment are among the biggest challenges facing U.S. health providers in the coronavirus pandemic, according to a government survey of more than 300 hospitals.

Insufficient supplies of key testing components and long waits for virus test results have compounded deficits of personal protective resources, staff and hospital beds, according to thereport from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

“Testing challenges hampered hospitals’ efforts to reduce community spread, protect staff, and care for patients,” said the report, which surveyed 323 hospitals across the U.S. in late March.

Hospital administrators reported a wide spectrum of other issues, including inadequate numbers of infectious-disease doctors and respiratory therapists who manage ventilator care. Officials also reported anxiety among staff and shortages of cleaning supplies and toilet paper.

The inspector general’s findings show a health-care system in which even basic operations are being strained as much of the U.S. braces an onslaught of Covid-19 cases. Hospitals faced problems treating virus patients, testing potential patients and readying to treat the disease in the future, the report found.

Testing Lags

Hospitals reported waiting a full week or longer for test results, at least in part because of reliance on outside laboratories that have been overwhelmed by demand.

That has left health-care facilities “unable to predict when results would arrive or advise patients on how long they should self-quarantine or undertake other measures while awaiting results,” the report said, adding to other problems. Hospitals have had to treat patients with symptoms as if they had Covid-19, using up beds and protective gear.

Hospitals are also having trouble accessing limited supplies crucial to Covid-19 testing, including components such as nasal swabs and chemicals known as reagents. That’s restricted their ability to effectively test staff, patients and others.

Some hospitals said they were dividing the viral transfer media, the materials that are used to preserve patient samples for testing, in half to double their capacity, as well as substituting in transfer materials from other testing kits for flu and strep, the report said.

Without reliable access to testing, hospitals say they have saved it for their employees and the most ill patients.

Masks & Gowns

Hospitals are also facing short supply of masks, gowns and gloves. They have resorted to saving and reusing single-use or disposable equipment, including by sterilizing masks and putting surgical masks over N95 masks, the report said. They have also turned to other equipment not intended for medical use and in spite of concerns about their safety, including construction masks and homemade masks and gowns, the report said.

The government could provide assistance on a slew of these issues, including testing and protective equipment and financial assistance, the surveyed hospital officials said. The government has sought to address many of these challenges since the survey was taken, according to the HHS OIG report, which pointed to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump March 27.

The survey, conducted March 23 to March 27, involved short telephone interviews with a random sample of hospital administrators across 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

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