AUSTIN (KXAN) — As state and local leaders acknowledge a shortage of personal protective equipment necessary to treat the volume of patients entering the healthcare system as COVID-19 spreads, community members in Austin are trying to gather donations to fill the gap. One Austin-based health care company found itself caught in the middle of this shortage and turned to the community to fill the gap.

Dr. Paula Requeijo, Chief Medical Officer of Austin-based Elite Patient Care which provides post-acute care to thousands of patients around the country and hundreds in Texas, made a plea to friends and neighbors two days prior to donate the personal protective equipment her team has not been able to get otherwise.

The Austin community came through to help her.

In a matter of days, Elite Patient Care received around 350 masks — enough to keep their staff providing care to patients for a week.

A photo of a surgical mask, an item Austin healthcare workers say they are in need of. (Photo Courtesy Dr. Paula Requeijo).

Elite Patient Care specializes in providing clinical care to patients in nursing facilities, long term care, assisted living facilities, and independent living facilities, Requeijo explained. “So we really take care of a very vulnerable population, especially at these times,” she said.

In fact, there have been patients at Elite Patient Care who have been among the confirmed cases of COVID-19, Requeijo said.

Requeijo explained that the equipment shortage her company is facing now is the result of a sequence of events over the past ten days.

She recalled that ten days prior was when her team began advising some of their employees to quarantine themselves because they had gone on a cruise or because they were having symptoms related to COVID-19. Requeijo said that was the first hint that “we’re not going to have enough providers to take care of our patients, not even counting the new patients that we are going to have to give care to with the COVID pandemic.”

Then Requeijo said her team watched the way the novel coronavirus has been handled in Italy and in Europe. Her observation was that “we were not really taking any big measures here in the U.S. “It, really helped us open our eyes and see what was coming.”

Typically, Requeijo explained her team doesn’t bring their own personal protective equipment to work, they use supplies already at the facility. But with COVID-19, Elite Patient Care wanted to get gear ahead of time to be prepared, so they placed an order two and a half weeks ago. That order still has not arrived, Requeijo said. In some cases, Elite Patient Care had to put care for patients on hold because of this lack of personal protective equipment.

In the video, she shared with friends, Requeijo made an ask to viewers: “I am speaking today on behalf of all the healthcare community here in Austin. We are running out of protective equipment. We need masks, gloves, gowns.”

She asked friends to share YouTube videos on how to make protective masks at home. While N-95 masks are the ideal type for her medical team, made-from-home masks or surgical masks will help too, she said.

But face masks are not the only item needed, Requeijo said her practice also could use medical gowns, thermometers, gloves, goggles and more. These items, she explained, are not just a wish list. These are the necessities to protect both the patients they are treating as well as the Elite Care employees.

Now that Requeijo has enough gear to last her team through the week, they plan to distribute all the protective gear Monday morning, sharing with other nurses in the Austin area.

How you can help

KXAN has heard from medical professionals all week in the Austin area who have also felt the impacts of this shortage of necessary gear.

While the Requeijo and her practice are still accepting more donations (their Austin office is 3901-A Spicewood Springs Road, Suite 201, Austin, TX 78759) others in the community are organizing collection efforts of personal protective equipment as well. You can check the City of Austin’s COVID-19 website for an updated list of which locations are accepting personal protective equipment (PPE) donations or monetary donations.

The Austin Disaster Relief Network has partnered with the city to address the PPE shortage as well. They are looking for donations of the following:

  • Hand Sanitizer (of all sizes)
  • Antibacterial Soap
  • N95 Masks (NEW)
  • Surgical Masks (NEW)
  • Industrial Masks (N-95 or Dust)
  • Disinfectant Wipes (NEW)
  • Latex Free Gloves
  • Eye Protection Goggles or glasses (NEW)
  • Face Shields (NEW)
  • Protective Gowns (water resistant)
  • Disposable Food Grade Gloves
  • Thermometers (NEW only) – old style or new style, especially non-contact version

ADRN has also partnered with three churches to provide additional drop-off locations for Austinites starting Monday, March 23:

  • Celebration Church (North) at 601 Westinghouse Rd – Georgetown, TX 78626 from Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Greater Mt. Zion (East) at 4301 Tannehill Ln – Austin TX 78721 from Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Life Austin (Southwest) at 8901 W Hwy 71 – Austin TX 78736 from Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The City of Austin, Dell Medical School, and UT Health Austin partnered on a PPE donation drive over the weekend. Austin Public Health will distribute the protective equipment donated over the weekend.

A photo of an N-95 mask, a piece of equipment Austin healthcare practices say they are in need of . (Photo Courtesy Dr. Paula Requeijo).

A release from Dell Medical school noted this donation drive was being held, “in anticipation of supply chain challenges, it is expected that these supplies will be critically needed by front-line healthcare workers treating a surge of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks”

For those who aren’t in a position to donate, Requeijo said there are some simple things anyone can do to make it easier for healthcare workers.

“I think that this is the calm before the storm, we have not reached the peak of the curve yet,” she said, referring to projections of the potential for COVID-19 to spread throughout populations. “So we need to continue sending that message that everybody can help us just by staying at home. Not at the friend’s home, not at the neighbor’s home, staying inside, staying at home. It’s very important and you can truly save lives.”

Behind the shortage

The impacts of the personal protective equipment shortage have sparked concern from state and local leaders. In a briefing Sunday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott made this crystal clear, saying, “we do not have enough personal protection equipment.”

“We don’t have enough testing & collection equipment,” he added. “We have the money for it but the supplies are not available for us to be able to purchase. We are asking the federal government to accelerate production and supply of personal protection equipment and COVID testing equipment.”

The governor went on to explain that strategies the state has looked at so far come with projected delivery dates in July. “That’s not going to work,” Abbott said.

“We need delivery dates tomorrow. The next day. We have ready money to pay for anybody who can sell PPE to us,” the governor continued. “We’ll cut you a check on the spot.”

At a briefing last week, Abbott said that Texas received an allotment of supplies such as personal protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile and said that Texas will be receiving more from that allotment in the future.

At an Austin-Travis County press briefing last week, Austin’s Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott explained that the city was limited in its ability to test for the presence of the novel coronavirus “because of test kit limitations and PPE necessary to do those tests safely.”

This past week, the University of Texas at Austin Lecturer Bradley Gold explained to KXAN last week that the disrupted supply chain in these products is amplified by several factors. One aspect, he noted was that companies usually stick to a “just-in-time” shipping model to keep prices low and avoid a backlog of inventory. Another factor, he added, is fact that these products are often made from different components that can be assembled in stages all over the world.