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IU Health staff creates N95 mask disinfection system

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Posted at 8:25 AM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 08:25:40-04

INDIANAPOLIS — While IU health has plenty of N95 masks for their staff members right now, they wanted to find a way to make this personal protective equipment last longer, especially now as stay at home orders are being lifted.

"As the state is opening up I mean we are all kind of collectively holding our breath to see how having more people out and about, how that is going to impact our numbers at the hospital," Mary Kay Foster, a nurse in the hospital's special pathogens unit, said.

Having disinfecting equipment in place is giving nurses and other hospital staff peace of mind in case there is another increase in COVID-19 patients.

"IU Health has a very good supply of N95 masks and this is just allowing us to be a little more proactive and make sure our supply is safeguarded," Foster said.

Dr. Nathan Alves, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at IU Health built a system of UV sterilizers with PVC pipes that are used daily in patient rooms for cleaning. The process allows one N95 masks to be worn up to four times by a staff member as opposed to just once before being thrown away.

Alves said hospitals across the country are using various techniques to disinfect and reprocess masks.

"It depends on where you are and what you have access to," Alves said. "We had access to these room sterilization towers already. They were purchased in response to some of the Ebola stuff a few years back."

The system is currently used to disinfect N95 masks for Methodist, Riley and University Hospitals.

"So each nurse gets that and she forms it up to her face to get a good fit and she puts her name and the unit that she is working on, and then when she's done with that mask at the end of her shift she puts it in a brown paper sack and puts it in a bin," Foster said.

A sterile processing team then picks up the masks and puts them on the rack where the mask gets radiated for a half-hour. The maks is put in a white bag and returned to its unit.

At this point, N95 masks are only being used for specific procedures, so the system is not used at capacity. However, if it was, it could sterilize 3,000 masks a day.