A 28-year-old doctor who died from coronavirus had been forced to wear the same mask for “weeks if not months” while treating patients with the disease, her family has said.
Dr Adeline Fagan, from Syracuse, New York, died last month after a two month battle with the virus after she became infected as she did a coronavirus rotation in the ER, according to Syracuse.com.
The doctor worked in obstetrics and gynaecology in Houston, and was in the second year of her residency.
Dr Fagan’s family have said that they believe their daughter’s death was linked to alleged PPE shortages that strained the worst-hit areas at the beginning of the pandemic.
“Adeline had an N95 mask and had her name written on it,” her sister, Maureen Fagan, told The Guardian. “Adeline wore the same N95 for weeks and weeks, if not months and months.”
The CDC advises that a N95 mask is not used more than five times if no manufacturer guidance is available to ensure the equipment is always working safely.
HCA Houston Healthcare West’s chief medical officer, Dr Emily Sedgwick, denied the allegations that staff were being asked to overuse masks.
“Our protocol, based on CDC guidance, includes colleagues turning in their N95 masks at the conclusion of each shift, and receiving another mask at the beginning of their next shift,” she told the newspaper.
A spokesperson for HCA West also said that staff were “heartbroken” by Dr Fagan’s death.
Dr Fagan fell ill in early July and quarantined at home for a week after testing positive for Covid-19. But her family say that her condition worsened and she began to fall over and her lips turned blue, a sign of lack of oxygen.
She spent several weeks in intensive care on a ventilator before suffering a “massive brain bleed” and doctors said she would need emergency surgery. However, Dr Fagan died before it could be performed.
“We spent the remaining minutes hugging, comforting and talking to Adeline,” her software engineer father Brant Fagan reportedly wrote on a blog documenting his daughters condition. “And then the world stopped … ”
Nurses and doctors hit out at government officials in March over the shortages of PPE and its impact on medical professionals through the pandemic.
In New York, which became the epicentre of the outbreak, Pat Kane, a registered nurse and the executive director of the New York State Nurses Association claimed that many nurses were having to reuse their protective gear, according to The New York Daily News.
She claimed at the time that some are being ordered to stretch the use of face masks to five days, much longer than their recommended use. The association also sued in New York over a lack of protective gear amid the pandemic.
“Nurses are trying to dry them out, wipe them out,” she said. “They’re doing this without training.”
Hospitals in the area consistently denied incorrect or overuse of equipment but acknowledged that the pandemic was “straining the resources of all New York area hospitals”.
In August, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker disputed the claims that health care professionals were facing shortages amidst the pandemic.
“Just because something is reported doesn’t mean those are the facts of what is actually happening and what’s reported on the news,” Mr Zucker said.
However, health department spokesperson Jill Montag walked later walked back the comments saying that state health officials had indeed heard reports from nurses demanding more or better protective gear.
“When we heard from nurses on the ground that they needed more or better PPE, we immediately started daily conversations with union representatives, tightened protocols and treated the situation with the urgency it deserved to help ensure our frontline responders had necessary PPE,” Ms Montag said.
More than 7.53 million people have been infected with the novel coronavirus in the US since the outbreak began in March, leading to the deaths of over 211,000 Americans.
Additional reporting from the Associated Press