Epworth HealthCare has introduced Australian designed and manufactured personal respirators to Intensive Care Units (ICUs), to protect staff and preserve supplies of face masks for use by patients or healthcare workers across other parts of our hospitals.

The respirators are part of the Respiratory Protection Program at Epworth, to keep patients, staff and doctors safe.

The positive air purifying respirators (PAPR) can be worn by staff for the entire shift.

Dr Jonathan Barrett, ICU Director, Epworth Richmond started looking at personal respirators very early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I saw what was happening overseas where hospitals were overwhelmed in places like Italy, it was clear that a similar spike in COVID-19 cases here would put pressure on PPE supplies,’ Dr Barrett said.

“Normally in an ICU, staff would use 50 facemasks per patient per day. When staff are wearing the PAPRs, it saves thousands of masks each week”.

At the start of the pandemic, Epworth ordered 50 PAPRs, which are manufactured in Sydney.

The respirators were funded by a generous one-million dollar donation from La Trobe Financial, used to purchase equipment to support Epworth to care for Victorians in the fight against COVID-19. La Trobe Financial is a long-standing supporter of Epworth HealthCare.

Dr Barrett said the respirators arrived before the second wave of the pandemic hit.

“Normally in training, we’d use training personal protective equipment (PPE) that’s slightly different to what is used in the ICU, so we can preserve PPE supplies for use on patients. Having the PAPRs early meant we were able to undertake training before the second wave, using the same respirators that we are wearing every day in the ICU. As a result, staff were quite comfortable and confident in using them.”

The Respiratory Protection Program coordinator and Epworth Richmond ED NUM, Sheila Salonga said staff and doctors in high risk areas are being tested to make sure their N95 masks fit.

“Correct fitting and correct use of PPE, like N95 masks, are vital in keeping everyone as safe as possible,” Ms Salonga said.

“We are carrying out fit testing of staff in our emergency departments, intensive care units and COVID-19 wards. We are using a number of different types of masks and respirators to ensure everyone is protected.

The procurement team at Epworth has been working tirelessly to ensure access to PPE to ensure the safety of our patients, staff and doctors. Epworth has received regular deliveries of Australian-grade PPE into its warehouse, sourced through existing and trusted vendors.

Since the start of the pandemic, Epworth staff have been supplied with more than 15-million pieces of PPE including gowns, gloves, surgical and N95 masks, face shields and more recently, 10,000 cloth masks for staff personal use.

Adjunct Professor Paula Stephenson, Executive Director Clinical Services and Chief Nursing Officer said Epworth has had a rigorous approach to patient, employee and doctor safety throughout the pandemic.

“Early in our pandemic planning we set up a PPE governance committee to oversee all decisions about PPE use including establishing important roles such as PPE spotters,” Adj Professor Stephenson said.

“Some of our initiatives have been adopted by other hospitals, keeping even more people safe”.

Epworth appreciates the long standing partnership and financial support from La Trobe Financial which has previously funded the purchase of six new Da Vinci Surgical robots as well as equipping the new La Trobe Financial Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratories.