HCA Houston Healthcare hospitals stepping up universal mask policy

HCA Houston Healthcare, which has a location in Cleveland, announced on Monday, March 30, that all staff and providers in all patient care areas will now wear masks, expanding their use beyond suspected or positive COVID cases.

According to a statement from HCA, masks will be optional only for colleagues in non-patient care areas who can consistently maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet aside from brief interactions with colleagues.

“Our top priority is protecting our patients, clinicians, nurses, and colleagues so we can best serve our communities through the duration of this pandemic,” said Dr. Mujtaba Ali-Khan, chief medical officer of HCA Houston Healthcare. “These new guidelines apply to all areas of our patient care facilities, not just those where suspected COVID or COVID-positive patients are being treated.”

HCA is taking this step now because of evidence that shows, while social distancing is a key strategy for interrupting the spread of coronavirus, it is difficult to maintain in the busy patient care environment.  Also, the latest analysis of HCA’s ability to meet the demand for additional use of masks gives the hospital confidence that colleagues in supply chain are prepared to address the needs. Even though HCA Healthcare currently has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, it will continue to take steps to conserve PPE, including reuse and reprocessing of PPE where appropriate.

HCA is now deploying three types of masks, depending on the clinical role, the type of care the patient is receiving, and the level of suspicion for infection with COVID.

  • Level 1 masks for all colleagues not needing higher levels of protection.
  • Level 3 masks for additional protection from fluids and droplets, and for use by colleagues caring directly for suspected COVID or COVID positive patients, except when performing aerosolized procedures.
  • N-95 respirators for colleagues caring for suspected COVID or COVID positive patients, and are the only mask that should be used  during  aerosolizing procedures, such as intubation, nebulization, bronchoscopy, or suctioning.

“As this crisis evolves, HCA Healthcare will continue to evolve to meet the challenges.  Since January, we have been continually monitoring PPE usage, carefully analyzing and implementing the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration for best PPE practices. Our supply chain has continually worked with our epidemiologists and data scientists to track usage and anticipated demand so we can allocate our stocks appropriately, even as it works around the clock to safeguard existing supplies and secure additional shipments. We have appointed PPE czars in each of our facilities to manage supplies in the face of oncoming surges,” the statement continues.

“We know that all our colleagues are making sacrifices in this extraordinary time,” Dr. Mujtaba Ali-Khan said. “We thank you for your continued efforts and commitment to our patients.”

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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