Thanks to extensive collaboration among the Texas Medical Association, county medical societies, and a host of other associations and state agencies, supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) will soon be flowing to community physicians and other health care professionals who’ve gone without through the COVID-19 outbreak.
The breakthrough came during a long week of sharing data with and explaining physicians’ dire straits to the State Operations Center (SOC), by TMA President David C. Fleeger, MD, and leaders of organizations representing long-term care facilities, community health clinics, and home health providers.
“Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Division of Emergency Management has assured us that a growing share of the state’s expanding inventory of PPE soon will be going to those who need it the most,” Dr. Fleeger said. “We still have some logistical hurdles to jump, and PPE availability remains limited, but with a little bit of luck we can get a meaningful amount of PPE flowing to doctors this week.”
TMA will provide additional details and instructions on how to participate in the next few days.
Physicians and others who need PPE will enter their information into an online portal that TMA has almost completed. TMA will forward that data regularly through eight designated Hospital Preparedness Programs (HPPs) and Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) that, in turn, will make the supplies available for county medical societies and other organizations to distribute. TMA continues to refine the distribution process in consultation with physician leaders, county medical societies, and HPPs. Each county will be asked to develop a fair, transparent, and equitable distribution process to ensure accountability to the state and physicians. To help with that process, a PPE workgroup convened by TMA developed guidance that county societies may use to prioritize medical practices based on their current supply of N95 respirators and other PPE, their typical daily usage, specialty, patient population, and other factors.
“The goal is to ensure those who need it the most will get top priority without anyone being accused of playing favorites,” Dr. Fleeger said. “All licensed Texas physicians can participate.”
If a county medical society wishes to maintain its existing PPE acquisition arrangement with its local partners, the new system will not replace it. TMA CEO Michael Darrouzet pointed as an example to the collaboration between Bexar County Medical Society and the Southwest Texas RAC. He said Eric Epley, executive director of that RAC and chair of the Texas Hospital Preparedness Program, was instrumental in showing the State Operations Center and the other RACs how the new program could work.
Other participants in the PPE distribution project include the Texas Health Care Association, Texas Association of Community Health Centers, and Texas Association for Home Care & Hospice.
“The ultimate hope is that this program will get us through until we are all obtaining PPE through our normal vendors,” Dr. Fleeger said.
The announcement follows months of frustration for physicians and others who have grown increasingly desperate for the PPE they need to care safely for patients who are or could be infected with the novel coronavirus. “There’s a significant number of clinics that are doing only telemedicine simply because they have no PPE,” Dr. Fleeger said.
County medical societies, TMA Alliance chapters, and specialty societies have organized community PPE donation drives for local physicians. Others have coordinated regional bulk purchases and served as clearinghouses for doctors whose usual suppliers’ shelves have gone empty.
One reason for the slow change, Mr. Darrouzet said, is that the state established the RAC system to coordinate the movement of needed trauma support and supplies when a time-limited natural disaster, such as a hurricane, overwhelmed the health care delivery system in a few regions of Texas. Responding to a long-running, statewide public health emergency – coupled with an international shortage of PPE – required the RACs to retool their entire approach, he said.