“Not all heroes wear capes. Some of them wear scrubs. Some of them wear uniforms. And some of them wear what you’re wearing right now.” – Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Mercy has activated their Hospital Incident Command System (HICS). In his role as the HICS safety officer, Dennis Lyden, Mercy’s manager of Clinical Engineering, is charged with looking out for the safety of Mercy’s staff and patients.
While the 25-year employee is quick to brush off any suggestion that he’s a hero, his attentiveness led to Mercy implementing a process last week to sterilize N95 masks for multiple-day use—a game changer as protective masks for healthcare workers are in perilously short supply.
Mercy Manager of Clinical Engineering Implements Game-Changing Mask Sterilization Protocol
Dennis Lyden, 58, is acutely aware of how a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators will impact hospitals that are treating patients suffering from COVID-19. As Mercy’s manager of clinical engineering, it’s his job to make sure that the hospital’s medical equipment is maintained, in working order and available for use 24/7.
“N95 masks, crucial for anyone entering the hospital room of a COVID-19 patient, are typically used for one day and then thrown away. With the expected surge, depending on the patient load, we could quite literally run out of masks.”
It was Dennis’ diligence that led to the implementation of an FDA-approved sterilization process at Mercy that allows for N95 facial masks to be used for multiple days—a game changer as these protective masks worn by those treating coronavirus patients are in dangerously short supply.
“I was just doing my job and by the grace of God, came upon something that will work for us,” Dennis said.
Extending the use of N95 masks
His interest was piqued when, at the end of last month, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine successfully pressured the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift restrictions on the number of N95 respirator masks that Battelle, a Columbus-based company, could decontaminate for reuse.
“I knew that, at Mercy, we have a device in Central Sterile Process (CSP) that is used on a daily basis to sterilize delicate surgical instruments,” Dennis said. “It operates at a lower heat and, like Battelle’s machines, it relies on hydrogen peroxide to sterilize.”
Of course, we would never implement that process at Mercy without FDA approval, and that approval normally takes months or more. So, I just kept track of the news and waited.”
Last week, Dennis got the good news sooner than expected. The vendor for Mercy’s sterilizing machine sent a fact sheet outlining FDA approval for using their machine to sterilize N95 masks for multiple usage.
Following the new process, Mercy healthcare workers write their names on never-used N95 masks. CSP collects the masks at the end of shifts, and runs them through the machine where they are sterilized using vaporized hydrogen peroxide. When the masks are delivered back to the healthcare workers, they mark a tick on their mask to indicate the number of times it has been sterilized. After three day’s use—and two sterilizations—the masks are discarded.
“This is going to make a very real difference as PPE supplies run low, especially when we get the anticipated surge of patients,” Dennis said.
Meeting the demand for ventilators
While the majority of people infected with COVID-19 are able to recuperate at home, ventilators for the critically ill are in demand in hard-hit areas.
“Every day, we report to the Ohio Department of Health on how many ventilators we have,” Dennis said. “If necessary, we will know how many ventilators are available at each hospital, and how many miles away the nearest supply of ventilators is in the event one hospital in particular is overwhelmed with cases.”
Dennis is making sure that all of Mercy’s ventilators will be ready for the anticipated surge in patients, even bringing older machines back into service. “The manufacturer of some of our retired ventilators has stepped up and committed to repairing them and readying them for our use.”
An outpouring of community support
The Perry Township resident said that he is heartened by the support that Mercy is receiving during this crisis.
“The community has really stepped up and their response has been awesome. They’re treating healthcare workers almost like the military and giving them the thanks that they deserve for being there on the front lines of this crisis. When the time is appropriate, we will be thanking everyone for their help.”
He said that restaurants are bringing food for the Mercy staff, and members of the community and businesses owners, such as contractors, are donating masks to the hospital.
“We are accepting the homemade masks but our front line has to use medical-grade PPE. If there comes a time when we ask our patients to wear masks, these will come in handy. We’re not sure what the future holds so we’re grateful for the donations.”
One day at a time
“The military instilled discipline in me and the importance of following rules. I am very process driven and I think that step-by-step problem solving is helpful during this unprecedented time.”
Members of the community should feel confident, Dennis said, that Mercy is being proactive and is taking necessary steps to handle the crisis and a possible influx of patients, as the pandemic evolves.
“It’s a very fluid situation with changes sometimes on an hourly basis. We’re planning, paying attention to the details and taking it one day at a time.”