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Mask Shortage Straps Pharmacists Who Need Them To Keep Medicines Pure

Published in: Kaiser Health News

For weeks, hospitals have been getting fewer masks than they ask for from their suppliers. Health care facilities were getting only 44% of the N95 masks and 82% of the surgical masks they ordered, according to a survey released March 2 by Premier, a group-purchasing organization that procures supplies for 4,000 U.S. hospitals and health systems.

Most of the masks sitting in hospitals are redirected to front-line staff who care for patients, said Soumi Saha, a pharmacist who is senior director of advocacy for Premier Inc.

Saha said many state laws require pharmacists to wear masks when mixing sterile compounds. Her fear, she said, is that if the mask shortage is dire enough, hospitals will move to an unregulated way to get those crucial medications to patients: bedside compounding.

That means that clinicians such as nurses would mix the medications right in the patient’s room and put them straight into an IV, she said. She worries such a sudden shift means “we could start seeing a surge in unfortunate patient medication errors and patient harm.”

Premier has asked the federal government to waive the state requirements on pharmacists wearing medical masks to mix compounds or allow them to use industrial masks or expired ones, Saha said.

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