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Overlake hospital said it follows safety gear guidelines, but its policies show otherwise

If you want to move to Phase 2, Washington state says healthcare workers can’t wear their N95 respirator or surgical mask for longer than one shift.

Policies at Bellevue’s Overlake Medical Center say workers should wear them for up to five shifts.

UPDATE June 18th, 4:16 p.m.: Overlake has revised its policy to meet the Washington State Department of Health guidelines on usage of personal protective equipment, according to an emailed statement by Public Health – Seattle & King County spokesperson, Kate Cole.

Public Health “became aware” that Overlake was not following state guidelines as part of the Phase 2 application process, she said.

ORIGINAL POST:

Overlake Medical Center told King County earlier this month that it was following state guidelines on personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves.

But documents obtained by KUOW show Overlake policies advise healthcare workers reuse N95 respirators for longer than recommended by the Washington State Department of Health.

Further, the Phase 2 application that King County filled out specifies that hospitals “must certify that no staff person is wearing any one N95 respirator or surgical mask for longer than one shift.”

Overlake policies recommend healthcare workers reuse N95 masks for up to five shifts, including when they’re caring for Covid-19 positive patients.

Overlake is one of over a dozen local hospitals and healthcare systems that emailed the King County executive’s office confirming that personal protective equipment was being used, and in some cases reused, in accordance with state guidelines.

Adequate supplies of PPE are important for the safety of healthcare workers and the public. Plus, they’re one key factor the state Department of Health evaluates in determining whether a county can move to a higher phase of reopening.

Medical institutions obtain and maintain their own supplies of protective equipment, unless they call in back-up from local health authorities.

On June 2, Thomas DeBord, the chief operating officer for Overlake, certified to the King County executive that Overlake Medical Center and Clinics are following “all recommendations for PPE conservation strategies for our staff and providers as outlined in the PPE guidance on reuse or extended use in this attached guidance.

Department of Health guidelines at that link specify health care workers should discard PPE after it’s used in certain cases that could be risky for healthcare workers—specifically aerosol-generating procedures, such as intubation and CPR, which spray a fine mist of potentially infectious particles.

Overlake infection control policies dated June 11, 2020, obtained by KUOW show something different. It says N95 respirators should be used “During (aerosol-generating procedures) with full face shield up to five shifts” for Covid-19 positive patients and others who are considered potentially infected.

In an emailed statement, the Washington State Nurses Association said it was "carefully reviewing" what "appears to be a discrepancy."

The nurse association "will take appropriate action to hold Overlake accountable for any violation that threatens nurse or patient safety."

In an emailed statement, Overlake said state, national, and world health authorities’ guidance has conflicted during the Covid-19 pandemic, but Overlake has been in compliance, it believes.

“We have been meticulous about our compliance with state guidance, including extended and reuse of personal protective equipment (PPE), as provided by state health officials,” according to the statement.

The statement added that Overlake “will continue to update our policies as we care for patients seeking treatment for COVID-19,” but did not specify whether it would also update its policy regarding N95 reuse and aerosol-generating procedures.