Medical Supplies in Oregon Are Running Dangerously Low. Here's How To Help.

Doctors and health officials race to set up donation sites for disposable gloves, masks, safety goggles, and hospital gowns

By Julia Silverman March 17, 2020

UPDATE: All non-emergency procedures in Oregon, including veterinarians and dentists, must stop, in order to preserve surgical masks, gowns and gloves for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients, Gov. Kate Brown ordered late on Wednesday. 

“If we do not take immediate action, the surge in demand in our hospitals for masks, gowns, and gloves will quickly outstrip the limited supplies they have available," Brown said via press release. "We cannot let that happen.”


Local hospitals have only about two weeks worth of disposable googles, gloves, gowns, and face masks on hand, Multnomah County officials told physicians in a blunt email this week, and there is no word yet on when supplies might be replenished. 

Without sufficient protective gear, doctors, and nurses run a far greater risk of being infected themselves. In China, where the outbreak began, more than 3,300 doctors and nurses contracted coronavirus because they did not have sufficient gear on hand. 

That’s set off an urgent campaign among local doctors and health officials to ask area businesses that use such equipment—construction firms, dentists, nail salons, woodworkers, or, crucially, private medical practices that are still, somehow, performing elective surgeries and seeing non-emergency patients—to donate any unused, new-in-box supplies they have on hand, in any quantity. 

Here’s what’s needed: N95 respirators, which filter out 95 percent of small particles, surgical masks, rubber gloves, and hospital gowns that close tightly in the back. 

By Tuesday afternoon, plans were underway for donation drop-off sites to be set up, including at a yet-to-be-determined site coordinated by the Multnomah County Health Department, and another, potentially, near Kaiser Permanente’s Northeast Portland headquarters. 

Businesses that are able to make such donations should email [email protected] to receive further instructions about where and what to donate, said Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, the communications director for Multnomah County. 

The immense need for supplies that are usually purchased, not donated, is another change in an extraordinary week that’s already seen Oregon’s largest health systems band together to coordinate their response to the spread of coronavirus.  

According to a Tuesday morning email from Tri-County Health Officer Jennifer Vines, a surge of patients needing hospital-level care due to the COVID-19 virus is expected to begin in one to two weeks in Oregon, based on modeling. As of Wednesday evening, Oregon has 75 reported cases of coronavirus, according to the Oregon Health Authority. 

To make matters worse, the supply chain from Asia has been disrupted by coronavirus, says Dr. Vesna Jovanovic, who practices family medicine in Portland and spent Tuesday frantically working to get a flow of donations up and running. The situation hasn't been helped by a run on supplies at Amazon and other sellers. 

People have bought all these things and are hoarding them,” Jovanovic says. “Most people don’t need 10 N95 masks. We are cut off from our natural flow and the federal government is not coming to save us.” 

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