Coverage of novel coronavirus is supported by the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science, a science reporting project from the Reynolds School of Journalism.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Governor Steve Sisolak addressed some of the state’s most pressing health care capacity problems. The governor touched on the lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and he committed to slashing red tape to bolster the medical workforce.
The PPE shortages include gloves, gowns and N95 masks, which are the ones health care providers use to help filter airborne particles like viruses. Sisolak said there is a scarcity of PPE nationwide and in Nevada. But there have been community-wide efforts to alleviate the shortages, including from businesses.
“Companies all across the state are donating excess PPE to the hospitals, while individuals in church groups throughout the state are staying home for Nevada and they're personally making masks to donate to doctors’ offices and special needs and senior centers,” Sisolak said.
Kimi Milo is a commercial video producer who lives in Reno. News about the PPE shortages alarmed her weeks ago.
“Now that, of course, makes me nervous because it means our health care workers are vulnerable and those are the people who are at the front lines and we owe them all the support we can muster,” Milo said. “In addition, if those people are more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, then as a society, our ability to fight the pandemic is reduced. If those people become ill and can’t stay at work, as this continues, we’re less capable as a country.”
Milo said she was galvanized into action. Since she does some woodworking at home, she already had some masks available. She looked into donating them to Renown Health.
But she didn’t want to stop just there. Milo is currently volunteering as the Northern Nevada regional coordinator for MedSupplyDrive. It’s a nationwide effort recently formed to help redirect unused PPEs from individuals and businesses to medical providers.
Right now, she’s working to get more volunteers to join her.
“And the next stage is to reach out to businesses to see who has supplies to donate,” Milo explained, “and our volunteers will be helping to coordinate pick-ups and drop-offs.”
She’s targeting businesses like dental offices, salons, and medical spas or anyone who might have supplies to spare and plans to donate what she gets to any medical facilities that need them.
Area hospitals are currently working with the community to accept donations. Renown Health also started a sanctioned health mask kit that provides materials and patterns for home sewers.
The shortage of professionals is also a critical health care capacity issue in Nevada. To bolster the workforce, Sisolak announced a directive that cuts through bureaucracy to enable trained medical providers to join what he called the “Battle Born Medical Corps.”
“It will allow us to quickly bring additional health care workers into our hospitals where we so desperately need them. Right now. This directive will allow certain doctors, nurses, EMTs, and even medical students to go to work right now caring for COVID-19 patients,” Sisolak said. “It will allow people who have retired to come back into practice without leaping over hurdles. We'll also allow professionals from other states to come here to help. It allows people with medical training from other countries to work alongside us as we fight this disease, and we will make sure we can do this without all the red tape.”
Krystal Flaniken is the chief nursing officer at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center. She has already been seeing professionals in the community stepping in to help plug the gaps.
“You've got people who are kind of coming out of the woodwork, retired people, retired health care providers, maybe other ones that have been displaced out of their jobs; they're really kind of coming to the hospitals, and wanting to step up and help the communities,” Flaniken explained. “So as far as our capacity, I think we're going to have to take that one step at a time.
And providers that are already practicing have had to be flexible due to the constant changes as a result of the pandemic.
“It's very different than anything we've ever been through in healthcare in the 30 years I've been here,” Flaniken said. “You're seeing people change their focus, your primary care providers, your urgent care providers, really stepping up and stepping in to be able to help with this surge.”
Flaniken said the biggest contribution the public can make right now is to social distance.
Sisolak reiterated that message urging Nevadans to stay home. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Sisolak has issued a stay-at-home declaration, which extends the shutdown of non-essential businesses, schools, and casinos until the end of this month.