We – as an industry, and as a nation – owed it to our healthcare workers to do something different, to improve their working conditions and their respiratory protection…

Stephen Bird
Director of Marketing
Bullard

 

The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was diagnosed in January 2020. Now, nearly two years later, it feels like not enough has improved since that initial diagnosis. COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations are still rising around the country, masks and social distancing are still required (or recommended) in many areas, and healthcare personnel are still bravely serving on the front lines.

But, while much remains the same, some things have improved over the past 20 months; in particular, increased access to superior options for respiratory protection for healthcare workers.

One of the earliest revelations afforded to us by the COVID-19 pandemic was that there was significant room for improvement in the PPE industry. An industry that exists to protect couldn’t do so properly when faced with sudden global demand for its products. Supply chain issues led to PPE shortages, and millions of counterfeit PPE products – not vetted by US safety authorities – were sold to hospitals and government agencies.

At the same time, images were plastered across social media of healthcare workers with painful bruises and indentations on their faces, caused by having to wear tight, ill-fitting masks for prolonged periods of time. Because of the supply chain issues, these workers were often forced to put themselves in harm’s way by wearing the same disposable equipment over and over again.

We – as an industry, and as a nation – owed it to our healthcare workers to do something different, to improve their working conditions and their respiratory protection, and to enable them to help COVID-19 patients, while minimizing any risk posed to their own health in the process.

Recognizing this critical need, a number of PPE manufacturers got to work to produce a better, more comfortable kind of respiratory protection for healthcare workers. Since last March, these manufacturers have introduced a range of healthcare-specific Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) to the market.

PAPRs have long been used primarily in industrial settings, to protect workers from harmful particulates. The traditional PAPR has been bulky, loud, and inconvenient for use in a healthcare setting. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a wave of new, lighter, more efficient, and more effective devices.

This new generation of PAPRs fills many of the holes in the PPE industry that were revealed during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A PAPR design typically features a loose-fitting, clear hood. In contrast to an N95 mask, this hood enables doctors and nurses to operate comfortably – no bruises or indentations – while wearing the protective gear for extended periods of time. A fit test for a PAPR – key in the efficacy of an N95 mask – isn’t necessary, and a PAPR’s hood can accommodate facial hair, something an N95 mask cannot do.

The hood also allows Health Care Providers (HCPs) and their colleagues and patients to see each other, face-to-face. This type of human-to-human contact, also not possible with an N95 mask, offers tremendous benefits both to the patient and to the medical professional. Communication between hospital colleagues, or between patient and provider, is easier and clearer, and humanizing emotions, like empathy and compassion, can be expressed directly.

Furthermore, healthcare-specific PAPRs are lighter weight than their traditional counterparts, and some have been designed such that they can be removed easily by the wearer – without assistance. (Traditional PAPRs typically require two people to remove the equipment from the wearer.)

The new PAPRs are also designed to be sterilized easily and, in many cases, most parts of the device can be shared among healthcare personnel. If faced with another PPE shortage – or with another supply chain breakdown – the reusable, sharable design of PAPRs means that HCPs with access to the devices would still be able to protect themselves properly.

N95 masks and other, similar respiratory products continue to serve a crucial purpose. But, when faced with dangerous respiratory disease, our healthcare workers deserve the best – and the most comfortable – protection our industry can provide. Healthcare-specific PAPRs provide this necessary type of protection. Therefore, increased access to these devices is essential. Hospitals and health care systems must invest in the technology today, to give their workers the level of protection and comfort they need to do their jobs properly.