LiveGreen: N95 mask decontamination

COVID-19 brought supply chain challenges that have never been seen before.

One of the biggest challenges the medical center faced was buying and using N95 masks. According to Tom Strudl, director of procurement and contracting, the price of N95 masks went from $0.65 for one N95 mask in a typical year to $8 during the pandemic.

In a typical year, the med center uses 35,500 N95 masks. During the pandemic, without the method of reusing N95 masks by decontaminating them, the med center would have been using the masks at a rate of 1.3 million/year.

Increased use of N95 masks caused a need for innovation to keep essential employees safe and healthy. The med center stretched the use of N95 masks by decontaminating them with ultraviolet light in order to reuse them.

According to an American Medical Association article, “In 2014, UV light was used to disinfect rooms when the center was treating Ebola patients. Now, UV lights are being used to preserve PPE. This experimental procedure is used to decontaminate N95 masks with ultraviolet light to allow them to be used for a week or longer.”

During the height of the pandemic, the med center was cleaning and reprocessing around 1,500 masks/day. In an Omaha World-Herald article, Julie Anderson quotes John Lowe, PhD, the assistant vice chancellor for interprofessional health security training and education: “Just as ultraviolet light can damage human cells, it also disrupts the genetic material of the novel coronavirus and inactivates it.”

This approach helped keep essential employees safe and healthy and kept N95 masks out of the landfill.

This process may not be transferrable to the next pandemic, which may involve a pathogen that does not respond to UV light. However, it does provide a lesson in how we might approach other waste problems at the med center as we try to achieve our goal of zero waste. How can we reuse what we have in a way that keeps patients and health care workers safe? How can we reduce waste long term?

Check out the dashboard here to find out more about the Med Center’s sustainability goals.

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