Hundreds of nursing homes, high-risk facilities to get PPE from FEMA

VIDEO: FEMA plans to supply 201 WA nursing homes, high risk facilities with PPE

AUBURN, Wash. — Help is on the way for hundreds of high-risk facilities in Washington that will be getting shipments of supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help cope with the shortage of personal protective equipment needed to protect workers from COVID-19.

About 15,000 nursing homes across the country will be getting the shipments, including one in Auburn.

Greg Byrge, executive director of Lea Hill Rehab and Care Center in Auburn, said the PPE can’t arrive soon enough.

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“I’ve seen a lot of different things come and go, but in 26 years, this is probably the toughest time,” said Byrge.

Like other facilities at high risk for COVID-19, the care center has had a tough couple of months taking care of people during the pandemic. And while staff there knows the important of safety measures, getting the right gear hasn’t been easy.

“We're reaching out to every place possible to find PPE -- even the most extreme,” said Byrge.

Orders are on hold, and when they are finally filled, they arrive in partial shipments.

Byrge says that contrary to popular belief, the lack of masks isn’t the biggest problem.

“Everyone thinks that a mask is the biggest part of PPE but it’s really gowns that are just as important, if not more important than masks,” Byrge.

Within 24 hours, Byrge said his staff uses 20 gowns in one room, so he was thankful to hear FEMA is shipping two weeks’ worth of all the supplies his facility needs.

FEMA’s federal coordinating officer, Tim Manor, said more than 200 high-risk facilities in Washington, mostly nursing homes, will start receiving supplies, but people on the front lines are already wondering what will happen when the federal shipments eventually run out.

“Nobody knows what will be enough. So, our goal is to supply what we can as soon as possible,” said Manor.

Facilities will begin getting the first shipments early in June with another shipment expected later in the month.