AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Our practice does not have masks for our staff except for homemade ones,” writes a nurse from Holy Cross Family Practice in San Antonio. “We are experiencing an influx of very sick patients.”
The Texas Academy of Family Physicians is getting emails like this regularly now.
Anxious nurses and doctors worried about personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages. The organization represents about 9,000 family physicians across the state.
“I was working with one N95 mask in the entire office for the last two weeks,” wrote Dr. Emily Briggs with Briggs Family Medicine in New Braunfels. “Gowns and hand sanitizer remain a problem here. I might need to move to rain coats… since my attempts to order gowns from MULTIPLE sources over the last two weeks have all been cancelled.”
Doctors at clinics in central Texas are using plexi-glass screens as protection when testing for COVID-19 patients. Others are making their own face shields using visors and office supplies.
KXAN Investigators continue hearing pleas for help from small practices worried about getting needed medical supplies.
Tom Banning who heads TAFP says he’s doing what he can to help. He drove across the state last week delivering about 525,000 surgical masks to doctors. The masks came from a friend with connections in the oil and gas business from a factory in Mexico.
“This is criminal. These doctors are putting their physical and financial health on the line, and we’re treating them like this… unbelievable,” says Banning. “This is the definition of moral injury and is going to have long-term ramifications on physician morale, burnout, and on their ability to continue providing care patients desperately need.”
Dr. Briggs tells KXAN News that she’s down to less then 10 N95 masks and only four gowns.
On Tuesday afternoon, she had her staff order 20 rain ponchos just so she could have some kind of protection.
“Whether it’s rain coats or a cloth masks, whatever we need to do. We’re going to wear that N95 plus a surgical mask plus of cloth mask, because we have to take care of ourselves so that we can be here to be able to take care of the patients,” explains Dr. Briggs.
Governor Greg Abbott promised the state would be aggressive in getting medical supplies, but doctors running small practices aren’t hopeful they’ll be considered.
“We’re the lowest man on the totem pole when it comes to getting those supplies. So I don’t I don’t really think that we are going to see that equipment,” says Dr. Briggs.
Banning says he’s talking with the Governor’s office along with other state leaders to make sure supplies get distributed fairly.
“As PPE comes to the state, we’re sending it out regionally and asking our regional partners to distribute it based on some guiding principles. Because there is still limited PPE available, we’re asking them to prioritize activities that are life sustaining or life-saving, that protect the health care delivery system, and that protect highly vulnerable populations,” says Chris Van Deusen with the Texas Department of State Health Services. “That means hospitals or providers treating or otherwise coming into contact with high-risk patients – or facilities with an active outbreak – get first priority. They’re followed by facilities and EMS providers that may encounter a suspected case and also encounter vulnerable people, and then health care facilities, providers and first responders who have general patient interactions.”
Van Deusen says they’re asking all providers to conserve the PPE they have as they prepare to treat additional COVID-19 cases.
The Texas Medical Association tells KXAN Investigator Arezow Doost that they are sending doctors to their local County Medical Society since they have a better idea of where to get the much needed supplies. The organization explains that about 30% of doctors make up small practices in the state.
“You wouldn’t put a soldier into battle without the proper gear and equipment and that’s what we have done to these physicians and nurses,” says Banning.