In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital supply chains were significantly impacted and personal protective equipment (PPE) became increasingly scarce.
UCLA Health’s operating room staff have for years collected and recycled surgical blue wrap — a paperlike material that protects surgical instruments — and, given PPE shortages, UCLA Health’s leadership encouraged a plan to upcycle the material into surgical masks. Partnering with volunteer sewists from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, over 3,000 masks were created and put in circulation, which helped meet demand until supply chains recovered. Unlike single-use disposable masks, these masks were created from more durable material and could be cleaned for multiple uses. These masks also provided better filtration protection than normal surgical masks. The UCLA Health team plans to continue to upcycle the material through a partnership with UC Irvine Health.
Stores of N95 masks and face shields were also impacted by global supply chain shortages. UCLA hospitals worked with Infection Prevention and the Materials Management and Transportation departments to collect masks from 44 hospital units to be sterilized through large UV light equipment. As of August 2020, over 80,000 masks had been cleaned and put back into circulation in the hospitals. UCLA Health is evaluating whether this program can be expanded to help divert unused excess medical supplies that end up in the landfill.