Healthcare workers should not be discouraged from bringing their own masks or respirators to work when employers run short during the COVID-19 pandemic, say industry advocates.

Many employers are rightly attempting to conserve equipment for high-risk procedures, especially N95 respirators, acknowledged the Joint Commission in a statement this week. But exposure risks faced by frontline care providers may necessitate the use of “standard” worker-owned equipment.

“Allow staff to enhance their own protection,” the safety advocate urged healthcare organizations. “That increased protection may offer peace of mind sufficient for staff to attend fully to caring for the patients that so desperately need their help.”

The American Medical Association has put out a similar call for leniency.

The appeal comes as the long-term care industry desperately seeks masks, gowns and gloves. In mid-March, AHCA/NCAL predicted that nearly half of facilities would be without PPE by now without extreme conservation measures. 

“We are concerned about the nursing homes and assisted living communities that are exhausting their PPE supplies,” AHCA/NCAL noted at the time, in a plea for donations from other healthcare providers, private industry and the public. 

Meanwhile, the Joint Commission has addressed additional member PPE-related concerns. These include whether masks should be worn at all times during the work day (probably), and whether surgical masks provide adequate protection from the coronavirus when compared to N95 respirators (uncertain).

“Allowing staff to wear masks (or respirators, depending on the degree of risk) throughout the day should help prevent nosocomial spread [of COVID-19], although the evidence supporting this is incomplete,” the safety advocate concluded.

The Joint Commission does not have any standards prohibiting staff from using PPE brought from home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention likewise states that organizations that have reached crisis capacity may rely on strategies “not commensurate with U.S. standards of care.”