Stephen Bird

Last month the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, a division of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), issued a request for information soliciting “public comment on the need to establish centers of excellence to address research and practice needs in the area of personal protective technology (PPT), including personal protective equipment.” 

This RFI is, perhaps, the latest demonstration of a growing and widespread recognition within the healthcare industry of the need for improvements in the PPE space – a need that has been highlighted dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In COVID-19’s earliest days, nursing homes and long-term care facilities were hit particularly hard, largely because of the heightened vulnerability of their patients. While grappling with the sudden advent of COVID-19, care providers at these facilities, just like all medical professionals, were also faced with a critical PPE shortage.

This shouldn’t have been the case. Despite the sudden onset of COVID-19, the healthcare industry could have been better prepared. Healthcare workers deserve – during a pandemic, as well as under normal circumstances – the best protective equipment the industry can offer them, as well as reliable access to that equipment.

Thankfully, a range of PPE manufacturers, including Bullard, recognized quickly the need for improved PPE and began to develop new and necessary protective equipment designed to the unique needs of healthcare workers. 

As a part of this movement, several healthcare-specific powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) have been released into the marketplace. Had these devices existed prior to COVID-19’s onset, it’s conceivable that many healthcare workers and care providers could have found themselves in a better, safer situation.

Many of the new healthcare PAPRs are both reusable and shareable. In a PPE crisis, like that experienced at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers using healthcare-specific PAPRs would be able to sanitize and reuse their protective gear. They wouldn’t need to be in the dangerous position of wearing disposable face masks for days at a time, potentially exposing themselves and their vulnerable patients to a deadly virus.

The new range of COVID-19-inspired protective devices also offers a myriad of other benefits – better communication between care provider and patient, cost-savings for facilities, increased comfortability to the wearer and ease of use, among others – many of which would have proven useful during COVID-19’s earliest days. 

Now that we’ve learned from COVID-19’s PPE crisis, our next task is to increase access to these improved PPE devices for all types of care providers, including those serving patients in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. 

Improved PPE is critical for the next medical crisis, which is likely, but it’s also valuable in the interim, for everyday, standard care of patients. By improving the protective equipment we offer our healthcare workers, we can enhance their safety – as well as that of their vulnerable patients – from a wide range of threatening respiratory illnesses.

Stephen Bird is the Global Director of Marketing at Bullard, a 123-year old manufacturer of high-quality personal protective equipment and systems. In this role, Stephen oversees Bullard’s complete line of fire helmets and all equipment designed for thermal imaging, head and face protection and respiratory protection.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.