(Photo Courtesy of AHN)
Pittsburgh, Pa – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has awarded Allegheny Health Network (AHN) a $350,000 contract to further evaluate and assess the use of reusable elastomeric half-mask respirators (EHMR) in the healthcare field and their sustainability during global public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Led by AHN chief medical operations officer, Sricharan Chalikonda, MD, the project titled “Best Practices and Preferred Uses of Reusable Elastomeric Half Mask Respirators in Healthcare,” will formally survey clinical populations at AHN, evaluate and aggregate that data to propose respective guidelines for putting EHMR into practice during times of global PPE shortages.
As the national supply of N95 respirators dwindled during the early stages of the COVID19 pandemic, AHN was one of the first health systems in the country to pilot the use of EHMRs by frontline caregivers. The Network partnered with Pittsburgh-based MSA Safety (NYSE: MSA) to secure the respirators for its caregivers. EHMRs are often used in the construction industry and closely resemble gas masks that cover both the nose and mouth. They feature P-100 rated cartridge filters, meaning they filter out at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles.
“The MSA Advantage® 200LS EHMRs with P100 filters fit roughly 94 percent of the 2,000 clinicians who received them, and of that population, not one caregiver chose to return to using disposable N95s. They are extremely cost-effective, able to withstand rigorous cleanings and overall have been very well-received,” said Dr. Chalikonda, principal investigator of the CDC/NIOSH funded project.
AHN published its initial observations and findings about the use of the MSA EHMRs in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons in June. The authors of the study, led by Dr. Chalikonda, stated that these long-lasting respirators cost at least 10 times less per month than disinfecting and reusing N95s intended for single-use.
The current AHN research initiative will be conducted through NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Lab (NPPTL), based in Pittsburgh, which is the lead federal laboratory responsible for approving all respirators used in workplaces across the country and conducting research and evaluations of PPE such as respirators, gloves, surgical gowns and more. AHN hopes its findings will further educate industry peers about the efficacy of EHMRs with P100 filters in the setting of a pandemic and establish industry implementation guidelines.
“Since we’re one of the first early-adopters of reusable EHMRs, we have a unique opportunity to serve as a model for the industry, by engaging with our clinicians and leveraging their feedback and experiences to further develop effective PPE strategies,” continued Dr. Chalikonda. “To that end, we’ve designed a comprehensive survey and intend to collect responses from up to 1,000 frontline employees who used the masks during the initial pilot phase.”
A sampling of survey topics include mask discomfort, communication challenges, training, disinfecting methods and ease of frequent use, among others.
In addition to Dr. Chalikonda, other AHN leaders participating in the study include Hope Waltenbaugh, vice president of surgical services; Sara Angelilli, director, perioperative education; Meghan Napoli, quality process engineer; and Brian Blend, project manager.
“We’re beyond grateful to the CDC’s NIOSH organizations for recognizing the ingenuity of the clinical teams across Allegheny Health Network,” said Dr. Chalikonda. “We’re confident that our experience can ultimately help guide other health institutions on establishing effective PPE strategies that enable them to maximize the safety of their caregivers and patients.