'Conservation measures' in place as hospitals seek to stretch essential protection supply

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As Houston hospitals look towards possible increased patient volumes due to COVID-19, they're also looking towards supply warehouses.

Many are wondering if the stockpiles of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will last long enough and if suppliers will be able to re-stock them.

Doctors and nurses treating suspected or actual COVID-19 patients need to wear a gown, gloves, a N-95 mask and face shield.

Some Houston hospitals report having just "a few weeks to a few months" supply depending on the item.

The Texas Medical Center said hospitals in the medical center have "instituted 'conservation strategies' in anticipation of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Those vary depending on the hospital, but all have complied with the federal government's desire to postpone elective surgeries.

ABC13 checked with Harris Health (which runs Ben Taub), Memorial Hermann, Methodist and Texas Children's hospitals. All claim to have enough stock on hand for immediate needs but express concern about the future. 13 Investigates has not heard from any doctor's office claiming to have run out of protective gear.

Dr. Ron Walters, the President of the Harris County Medical Society, tells us patients need to be informed about what to expect when they see their doctor.

"Like most things we do in medicine, it's very risk based," Walters said while discussing when doctors will decide to wear PPE. "If you have not traveled out of the country and you have no fever, and you know, you have no cough and shortness of breath, you are relatively low risk right now for having the virus."

Symptomatic patients should expect to see the highest level of protection. All patients should expect any health care professional to show good hand washing practices.

Walters encouraged patients to consider tele-medicine or virtual visits with their doctors for the foreseeable future. He also points out that it keeps potentially vulnerable patients from being around other sick people.

Hospitals all expressed a measured level of optimism about supplies being replenished soon.

The Houston Fire Department received more PPE earlier this week.

The City of Houston's Office of Homeland Security Director George Beunik said the city received a shipment of protective gear Thursday from the federal government's Strategic National Stockpile. The city had enough on hand to share some with the Texas Medical Center.

Harris Health, the Harris County department which runs health clinics across the county along with Ben Taub and LBJ Hospitals said, "Harris Health has a few weeks to a few months' worth of inventory on an assortment of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for use by staff in the treatment and care of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. We adhere to the recommended PPE utilization for infection prevention from the CDC. This does not include staff wearing PPE outside the immediate treatment environment of patients requiring standard infection prevention or droplet precautions. We have an adequate supply, but still wish to conserve these precious resources for their intended purpose."

Texas Children's Hospital sent a statement, saying in-part, "At this time, we have adequate supplies and PPE. Given this is an ever-changing situation, we have teams organized that are meeting daily to evaluate all necessary supplies."

A Memorial Hermann spokesperson said, "Memorial Hermann has a steady supply of PPE for our healthcare workers."

A Houston Methodist spokesperson simply said. "We do not have a PPE problem currently."

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