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Shortages of Personal Protective Equipment in the COVID-19 Pandemic


Mark Pelletier, MS, RN, chief nursing officer and chief operating officer

Many of you have reached out to us about the shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). We are just as deeply concerned as you are and are working around the clock to find a solution.

We’ve been in daily briefings with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding shortages of:

  •  PPE
  • ventilators
  •  swab kits

There are no easy answers. Many of our employees are right there in the trenches with you and are voicing the same concerns. For now, due to this emergency, organizations may need to institute measures to conserve supplies of PPE.  These may include:

  • use of alternative products, such as powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) in place of N95 respirators and eye protection 
  • revising how PPE will be used (e.g., keeping the same N95 respirator or mask on for care of multiple patients unless contaminated or damaged).  
  • determining if alternate gowns should be used for protection of staff or sterile procedures

Future Solutions on PPE Shortage
We strongly support emergency efforts at the federal level to drastically increase the production and distribution of PPE and other necessary medical equipment and supplies. We’re also open to conversations on expanding telehealth. To that end, we’re encouraging organizations to explore options outside of face-to-face visits. It’s explained thoroughly in this blog post but some options for virtual patient encounters include:

  • online patient portals and telephone conversations with providers
  • algorithms for patients who can be supported in home via phone vs. in the office
  • protocols for staff to meet patients who potentially have COVID-19 upon arrival
  • drive through testing
  •  alternative isolation areas if one isn’t available in the emergency department

All of these options limit the spread of infection while still conserving PPE.

We’re proud to be working in collaboration with our colleagues in managing this unprecedented time in health care delivery. We continue to participate in daily briefings with CMS and in ongoing calls with the Healthcare and Public Health Sector Coordinating Council (recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] as the critical infrastructure partner with the government). We also have worked with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to provide it with survey questions for the collection of timely data on hospital challenges.  

Undoubtedly, this is the most difficult chapter in our careers and the situation changes rapidly. Know that The Joint Commission sees the extraordinary effort you are making with your patients and thanks you for answering the call to save patient lives.

None of us alone can simply find more PPE now, when it’s so desperately needed. Be assured that we will continue exploring solutions through daily briefings with our colleagues at other organizations and keep you posted as more decisions are made. 

P.S. Countless individuals have reached out about the unfairness of The Joint Commission’s focus on food and drink in patient care areas over the years. Remember, as I explained in a KevinMD blog post earlier this year, this was never our requirement! We are here to support you in the important and lifesaving work you are doing. We’ll be reaching out to our accredited organizations and extend the option for you to call your account executive any time.

Mark G. Pelletier, RN, MS is the chief operating officer, Accreditation and Certification Operations, and chief nursing executive for The Joint Commission. Prior to his current position, Pelletier served as the executive director for the Hospital Accreditation Program and was also responsible for business development in the Hospital, Critical Access Hospital and Laboratory accreditation programs. Mr. Pelletier has more than 30 years of experience in hospital operations, performance and quality improvement, process redesign, and program development. Previously, he was the senior vice president and chief operating officer of Condell Medical Center, Libertyville, Illinois. He has also served in executive positions for several hospitals in the Chicago area including Resurrection Health Care, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Children’s Memorial Medical Center and Mercy Hospital Medical Center. Mr. Pelletier earned a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a Master of Science in administration from DePaul University, Chicago.