University of California Office of the President headquarters in Oakland, CA (Photo: UCOP)
By Lauren Bray, edhat staff
The University of California sent out a mass email last week directing university staff to stop donating medical supplies to local hospitals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
On Friday afternoon, an email from the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) labeled urgent stated many UC campuses were receiving multiple requests, typically from local hospitals, to donate designated types of personal protective equipment (PPE) in anticipation of growing demands in the healthcare industry.
PPE includes gloves, masks, goggles, bodysuits and any other materials used to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. Hospitals and healthcare facilities on a global scale have reported shortages of PPE as they struggle to treat the increasing number of COVID-19 patients.
“Please do not donate PPE as we need to be maintaining all our PPE stock and inventory for internal UC purposes. I realize everyone wants to help during this time of crises, but the ability for campuses to get many types of PPE is going to become increasingly difficult, and almost impossible in some cases (N-95s), very soon,” according to the email written by Brent Cooley, UCOP Deputy Director of Environment Health & Safety.
Cooley went on to state hospitals will have access and priority to the State and Federal PPE stockpile due to processes in place for hospitals to request items through the County and State Office of Emergency Services.
However, hospitals and healthcare systems worldwide are reporting massive shortages of PPE as federal and local officials continue to bid on the dwindling level of supplies.
A community health center in St. Paul, Minnesota is considering shutting down due to lack of face masks, doctors in St. Louis are treating COVID-19 patients with loose-fitting surgical masks opposed to tight respirator masks, and an emergency room in Los Angeles was given a box of expired masks where the elastic bands snapped upon use, reports the New York Times.
There are now public callouts from healthcare systems asking for donations. On Sunday, Cottage Healthcare posted a notice asking for donated medical supplies such as medical goggles, face shields, protective masks, and gowns.
“The global demand has overwhelmed the limited supplies being manufactured by some of the typical supply chain. Based on market supply availability and projected usage, Cottage anticipates supply challenges for protective equipment…” wrote Cottage Health.
Ventura County sent out a similar plea on Monday asking for PPE donations to support health care providers, facilities, and first responders combating COVID-19.
“We are facing an unprecedented public health emergency, and the increasing demands of our health care system is contributing to shortages in personal protective supplies,” said Ventura County Executive Officer Mike Powers. “Protecting and supporting the needs of our health care workers and first responders is critical to safeguarding the health of our community during this crisis. We are urging the community to make donations of personal protective gear so that we can protect the health and vitality of our frontline first responders.”
The email to UC employees stated staff needs to better manage their current internal supply of PPE and will need to gather, store, and secure these items as there have been reports of theft.
Jenn Caselle, a Marine Ecologist at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), took to Twitter with her reaction to the UCOP email. She stated her lab donated gloves, face shields, goggles and Tyvek suits to the hospital and that it felt good to do something right now.
“UC Office of Pres. memo telling us NOT to donate PPE, to inventory it and lock it down as we shut our labs… Seriously? [Because] locking up face shields & full Tyvek suits in an [Ecology Lab] is more [important] than our local care providers?” wrote Caselle.
Another UCSB employee who asked to remain anonymous confirmed their lab had already spearheaded a donation of PPE materials to local hospitals before this email was sent and will continue to do so.
In response to edhat’s inquiries, UCOP Communications Manager Stett Holbrook confirmed they are not in a position to donate PPE as their campus emergency operations centers are working hard to tap into supplies for equipment per standard emergency protocols.
“As supplies become in more demand, UC wants to ensure the protection of University personnel while enabling our organization to sustain and meet what is likely to be a long-term public health need. As such, we are not in a position to donate PPE at this time, given the demands on our organization, and in fact, have been grateful to those organization that have donated PPE to us,” said Holbrook in an email to edhat.
Additionally, Holbrook stated as the UC inventory is established, there may be a need for campuses to re-distribute PPE and other supplies throughout their own organizations including student health, first responders, animal care staff, COVID-19 research efforts, and other essential operations.
However, hospital administrators continue to beg for donations as the global demand overwhelms the supply.
“On behalf of all the healthcare workers on the frontlines of fighting this virus, I ask for the community’s support. We need you now more than ever to stand with us in safeguarding the health of this community,” wrote Ron Werft, President and CEO of Cottage Health, when asking for medical supply donations.