Updated March 26, 2020

Question: We have zero N95 masks and there are none available. Do deathcare providers have a way of receiving them from authorities since retail is not helpful at this point? And what about other PPE, how do we get these needed supplies if we are essential?

Answer: Currently, all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is scarce and difficult to obtain. As deathcare providers continue to assist in this crisis, they, like other frontline providers, are having difficulties obtaining necessary PPE. While the Federal Government, thorough Homeland Security, has recommended that deathcare providers be labeled as essential, this is only a recommendation and ultimately each state and locality will make the classification in its orders. As of the time of this response, most states ARE identifying deathcare as essential functions. This does help because it will put deathcare in the position to receive PPE from local agencies.

Distribution works on a local level through your State Department of Health Services (DHS). DHS works through the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) who in return release PPE from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to the local DHS. Unfortunately, state DHS locations have been notified of the extremely limited supply of PPE that will be distributed. Typically, ASPR will provide DHS with 48-hours’ notice as to when supplies will arrive, so as an essential business you need to work with your local DHS to receive supplies. Please note that:

  • The stockpile of PPE coming to states is severely limited. It consists of extremely small numbers of N95 respirators, surgical masks, face shields, gowns, coveralls, and gloves.
  • Businesses that use PPE should be optimizing current inventories of PPE per the CDC guidance.

John Flowers, CEO of Bass-Mollett, shared his personal research with Connecting Directors on how to navigate the government’s process for PPE allocation. Here’s the process as it was explained to Flowers:

  • All N95s in existing stock and those being manufactured now are sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • FEMA allocates supplies to each state’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) based on need
  • Each EOC manages requests from entities within its respective state — including death care professionals
  • To place a request for N95s, you’ll need to contact your state’s EOC.

CLICK HERE for complete contact information of Emergency Operations Centers for each state.

Please note, that while the above is the designated method of distribution based on Federal reserves, you still may be able to secure PPE from your current supplier. As of the time of this response, several suppliers have confirmed that they still have PPE available. While some items are running low, or in high demand, some deathcare suppliers are still fulfilling orders. However, in some cases, current orders are being based on previous orders in an effort to make sure that supplies remain consistent and avoid any hoarding of necessary supplies. You should contact your current supplier to see what may be available.

While not optimal, experts as well as the CDC have recommended that as a last resort, any healthcare workers who can’t get a N95 mask should make one. Listed below are a few suggestions from experts in the field:

  • Disposable surgical face mask and 2 layers of facial tissue Surgical masks can get the job done. Place 2 layers of facial tissue between your face and the surgical mask.
  • Create a makeshift mask If you don’t have a surgical mask you can make your own mask. You will need a thick fabric such as wool and rubber bands. You can also make a mask with the use of an old shirt and a pair of scissors. It doesn’t look very professional but works in a pinch.
  • Last resort: Use a wet handkerchief or towel When you don’t have time to create your own mask, then the quickest way you can protect yourself is to get a wet cloth, preferably a handkerchief or a towel, and cover your mouth. This has been taught as a fire safety tip for a long time.

Lastly, ICCFA has prepared a letter that can be used by suppliers in deathcare to send to their distributors, as well as deathcare businesses to send to their suppliers, in hopes of making sure that they remain in the supply chain as this crisis continues. In this way, deathcare providers can continue to order and receive some PPE through their normal outlets, distributors, and providers. The letter – which can be accessed here – should be printed on your letterhead and sent directly to your various suppliers, distributors and supply chains. This does not guarantee continued receipt of PPE and other needed supplies, but it may help in making sure that deathcare providers are recognized as essential workers, and as supplies are distributed, receive priority access to needed supplies.