US nursing homes get plastic ponchos and 'useless' cloth masks from FEMA while grappling with PPE shortage

3,213 out of 15,000 nursing homes are reportedly running short of PPEs and have less than a week's supply of masks, gowns, gloves, eye protectors and hand sanitizers


                            US nursing homes get plastic ponchos and 'useless' cloth masks from FEMA while grappling with PPE shortage
(Getty Images)

Nursing homes have turned into coronavirus hotspots, exposing just how ill-equipped these facilities are at tackling an outbreak. Three months into the crisis, these centers are still struggling to protect their health workers and vulnerable residents as the federal government is failing them, according to reports.

In May, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reportedly said that it would send masks, gowns and personal protective equipment (PPE) to nursing homes. And yet, some centers are still awaiting their parcels while others received packages with either flimsy protective gear or missing items. According to NPR, 3,213 out of more than 15,000 nursing homes are reportedly running short of PPEs. These also have less than a week's supply of masks, gowns, gloves, eye protectors and hand sanitizers. What is more, 946 of those centers have had at least one confirmed Covid-19 case since the pandemic emerged.

"The federal government has got to step up," Lori Smetanka, executive director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC, told NPR. "We're now — what? — three months into this pandemic and these facilities still don't have enough PPE to protect themselves and their residents?" This comes even as President Donald Trump announced that he would send PPE supplies to help the elderly residing in nursing homes. According to data from a federal report, Covid-19 has killed at least 26,000 residents. These vulnerable centers are grappling with poor infection control, aged residents with underlying conditions and staff shortages.

According to data from a federal report, Covid-19 has killed at least 26,000 residents (Getty Images)

As directed by the White House, FEMA was to send two parcels — a two-week supply of PPE — to about 15,000 nursing homes across the country. On the whole, the agency sent more than 11.7M surgical masks, about 53.3M gloves, over 1.2M goggles and other eye protection and nearly 12.9M gowns, as reported by CNN. Despite that, some centers are still awaiting their packages. Others unwrapped parcels containing cloth masks. The United States Department of Health and Human Services does not recommend these face-coverings while treating Covid-19 patients. Workers can wear them while commuting, they said on their website. Additionally, about 711 nursing homes do not have N95 masks — the best mode of protection from the new coronavirus. More than 1,900 facilities are left with only a week's supply.

"Instead of gowns, many received large blue plastic ponchos. It's like putting a trash bag on," Pamela Black, the administrator of Enterprise Estates Nursing Center in Enterprise, Kan, told NPR. "There's no real place for your hands to come out."

Defending the quality of the PPE, FEMA told CNN that their supplies "meets FDA or AAMI (Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation) certification," adding that some have raised concerns. "The AAMI-approved gowns came with instructions from the manufacturers. However, due to concerns from those who received them, the contractor is working on a short instructional video about the proper use of these gowns which will be shared with the nursing homes," a FEMA spokesperson said in a statement. Given the situation, Washington Governor Jay Inslee wrote to Vice President Mike Pence, expressing his concerns over the shortages. "Use the Defense Production Act to increase domestic PPE production necessary to meet current and projected needs for all workers in all sectors," Inslee suggested.

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