Medical offices around the country are opening back up for routine health checks and they're facing a huge problem; there's still a shortage of protective gear. Now, many are spending huge amounts of money restructuring the way they operate to keep themselves and their patients safe.
On a window ledge at ENT and Allergy Associates in White Plains, New York, sits a number of brown paper bags. Inside, face masks labeled for each physician.
“We have paper bags on our window sills with a bunch of masks. In there, we have 3-4-5 masks we’re rotating through. Those have to be kept covered to protect them from splatter or anything because once they get dirty, then they have to be thrown out,” Dr. Daniel Gold said. “We circulate gowns as well.”
Gold is an E.N.T., which is the medical and surgical choice for anything having to do with the ears, nose or throat. It's a profession that is very much in your face, so protective gear is of utmost importance.
“After wearing them for 5-10 minutes, you get short of breath and you’re like this is really hard,” he said.
Doctors like Gold are having a hard time getting more gear. In fact, Dr. Gold often uses shields that are designed for sheet metal work because medical grade equipment is back ordered, or entirely unavailable. A surgical mask which once cost 30 or 40 cents now costs $1 to $1.50.
They've also found that knockoffs are being sold.
“Not made of same material, not sealing against the face, and some had seam lines and then when you really looked, you’d realize there were holes through the seam lines that’s not blocking 95%,” Gold said. “You’re better wearing a t-shirt mask.”
Dr. Gold is far from alone on this issue. It's a statewide and nationwide problem. Dr.Bonnie Litvack is the president of the Medical Society, State of New York.
“That is an absolute mess because we can’t deliver the care if we don’t have the resources and the mask is ground zero for that,” Said Dr. Bonnie Livtack, the president of the Medical Society of the State of New York.
When asked about whether they were able to negotiate for price on PPE, Litvack said, “With the various companies they either have it or they don’t, or you pay the prices or you don’t.”
Dr. Litvack joined other state medical societies in the country by sending a letter to the Senate. They're asking the government to step in.
"We urge Congress to prioritize the production, distribution, and availability of PPE and testing, and accelerate efforts to conduct contact tracing,” the letter read. “All of these are essential to the safe reopening of medical practices and the economy and must be prioritized for all health care workers."
They're also asking for financial help as their costs to operate, while seeing half the patient volume, are mounting.
“These additional precautions and equipment is running us about $10 per patient,” Dr. Gold said. “It’s about a million in extra overhead a month just in these extra masks, and gowns, and gloves and wipes. All these other things, which nobody could have thought to budget in because who would have thought we’d have to consider every patient highly infectious.”
It's a new way of operating, as everyone is learning how to function in our new, post-pandemic world.