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I-Team: Mass General Brigham Nurses Concerned About Limited Supply Of N95 Masks

BOSTON (CBS) - Nurses at Mass General Brigham are sounding the alarm after the hospital notified them about the limited supply and increased demand for N95 masks.

Jim McCarthy, an RN in the recovery room, has been with Brigham and Women's Hospital for 16 years. He tells the I-Team, "Now we are being asked by the Brigham at this point to basically conserve our PPE basically reusing them at times."

In an email to staff the hospital said the use of N95s has "doubled over the past six weeks" and reminded employees to "preserve our supply" telling them once they put the mask on they don't need to change it for a new patient.

McCarthy says the supply issue was a concern in 2020. He was in the ICU when nurses had to reuse masks, sometime for weeks at a time.

He believes the inventory concern is in part due to the medical grade masks being given out to visitors of COVID patients. "You're taking away our supply of PPE and protection equipment from us to give to visitors," he said.

Mass General Brigham tells the I-Team the number of visitors being given the N95 masks is extremely small compared to the staff use. And the policy of using the same mask for different patients is in line with DPH guidelines.

Still, the Mass Nurses Association says the hospital should conserve its supply by stopping all visits until the number of cases goes down. Telling the I-Team, visitors are not tested for COVID and don't need to show proof of vaccine, unlike many Boston businesses.

"If you want to go to a restaurant you have to show vaccination status but if you want to come into a hospital where there's a risk of COVID or spreading COVID to immune comprised people, you don't have to show your vaccination status," McCarthy said. "Which doesn't make any sense to me at all."

Mass General Brigham says it has changed its visitor policy, by reducing the hours and only allowing one visitor per patient

In a statement Mass General Brigham said:

As a place of healing, we understand that the ability to receive family and friends as visitors is important to the health and well-being of our patients. As COVID-19 cases have risen in our community over the past number of weeks, we have made several changes to our visitor policy while considering that concern. Most recently, we have reduced our visiting hours to 2-8 p.m. and the number of visitors that patients can receive to 1. Some of these visitors are provided with N95 respirators for their protection, but the number used for this purpose is extremely small relative to the number used by staff.

Our staff usage rates of N95s have doubled through December and early January, and we are proactively taking measures to preserve our supply. In alignment with Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidance, we have implemented extended use of N95 respirators, where employees are able to continue to wear their N95 mask without removing it across patient encounters, but as soon as a mask is removed, it should be thrown away and replaced with a new one. Additionally, we have diversified the models of N95s that we order and store, and plan to use all of the different models that we have available.

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