UCLA Health Pursues Creative Solutions to Conserve Personal Protective Equipment

Coronavirus cases in California are projected to peak in April or May. At UCLA Health, a troubleshooting team of physicians, nurses, scientists and staff organized in January to begin planning for the anticipated rise in COVID-19 patients.

A chief concern was how to ramp up enough personal protective equipment, or PPE -- the masks, gowns and goggles that hospital workers wear every day -- to shield patients and themselves from infection. A hospital the size of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, for example, uses thousands of masks daily. A national PPE shortage only complicates the challenge.

The health system has doggedly pursued a myriad of creative solutions to stretch its PPE supplies and keep its patients and staff safe for the duration of the pandemic.

Respirator mask decontamination

UCLA Health has installed two new ultraviolet-light machines in Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica. The machines emit UV radiation to sterilize used N95 respirator masks several times, ensuring a renewable supply to the emergency rooms, intensive care and other units. An earlier model of the machine, previously used to decontaminate wheelchairs, has been adapted for mask-sterilization duty.

“Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation is a validated process to kill viruses,” said Dr. Daniel Uslan, co-chief infection prevention officer for UCLA Health. “So far, we have disinfected more than 800 masks for reuse. UCLA is one of the first health systems in the nation to use UV light for mask sterilization.”

Help from Hollywood

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has mobilized an army of costume and wardrobe workers to fashion face masks from medical-grade fabric. The IATSE local 44 has also donated N95 respirator masks from the sets of furloughed film and television shows and offered to produce face shields in bulk, if needed.

"IATSE has been functioning as a true partner to UCLA Health during our crisis response efforts," Becky Mancuso-Winding, executive director of strategic community and business relations at UCLA Health, commented in a recent Los Angeles Times article. “They are producing face masks from recycled fabric normally used to wrap surgical instruments for sterilization. The two-ply material is ideal as it allows air and heat to penetrate but keeps water and microbes out.”

Laser-cut face shields

Nearly 100 volunteers, including students and alumni from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, have invested long hours over four shifts to assemble single-use face shields from plastic parts that faculty and staff cut by lasers at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Lux Labs at the UCLA Library. So far, 6,750 of the shields have been delivered for distribution to staff at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The group hopes to transition to a reusable model of the face shield in the future.

“Our medical students have been phenomenal,” praised Dr. Robert Cherry, chief medical and quality officer for UCLA Health. “They’ve assembled thousands of masks. This has helped us flatten the curve for our use of supplies to manage the expected surge in patients.”