Got Stockpile? Preparing for Flu Season

Flu Virus Planning

We all know flu season is on the way. Unfortunately, no one knows how bad it is going to be.

Take the flu season that just concluded in Australia, for example. It was one of the longest flu seasons on record, with an unprecedented number of flu cases in summer and autumn. 1 The US 2018-2019 flu season was also was the longest on record. And before that, in the 2017-2018 season, we saw huge spikes in the number of cases (and in PPE shortages) over the course of the season.

Creating your strategic PPE supply may be even more urgent this year since the terrible Australian flu season is now prompting US influenza experts to prepare for the worst. And the CDC is advising people to be vaccinated by the end of October.

Stock the correct PPE

Certain types of PPE need to be on hand when large numbers of flu patients start coming in. First, all healthcare workers who enter a flu patient's room should wear a mask. For tasks that might create splashes or otherwise put healthcare workers at risk, gloves, gowns, and eye protection should be worn. Aerosol-generating procedures call for a respirator and goggles. For maximum protection, staff members need a face shield in front of a respirator.

That covers the "what." Now you need to determine "how much."

Crunching the numbers

Figuring out your strategic supply is a matter of counting the number of people who will come in contact with flu patients and determining how much exposure they may face. Here is a good way to start:

  1. Assess the exposure risks for each job role and task. (Doctors, nurses, etc.)
  2. Categorize the risks as very high, high, medium or low.
  3. Determine what mix of PPE is required for each task.
    (Gowns, masks or respirators, face shields/goggles, gloves, etc.)
  4. Estimate the frequency of each task and procedure.
  5. Estimate the number of employees and others who fall into each category.
    (doctors, nurses, patients, visitors, EMS, lab, transport, environmental services, etc.)

You can use this formula to calculate what you need:

Exposure risk X PPE Mix X Frequency X Number of employees = Estimated total

Preparing for a flu pandemic

Lady With The FluThe duration of a flu pandemic may be longer than a typical flu season. OSHA suggests planning for two waves of a pandemic, each 12 weeks long. 4 The same types of PPE usually apply here, but in higher quantities.

More employees and tasks may be considered high risk, with increased respiratory protection required. More isolation gowns are also indicated, to protect from blood and bodily fluids.

You will use the same formula as for seasonal flu to estimate the total PPE needed.

Face masks are key

To help control the spread of flu, facemasks should be worn by patients with flu-like symptoms before treatment - and by those with a confirmed flu diagnosis while they are being transported within the hospital for tests, x-rays, etc.

Facemasks should also be offered to visitors who are coughing, sneezing, or have other flu-like symptoms. Be sure to add this number to masks stockpiled for use by employees. And for child patients, be sure to stock masks that are sized for younger ages.

Tips for managing your stock

Keep your strategic supply in clean, secure environments with environmental controls. Avoid areas that are damp or have temperature extremes.

As you stock items, keep a record of each product’s shelf life. To avoid keeping items too long, you can incorporate product rotation (consuming the oldest supplies first) into your supply management system. Check on your strategic stock at least once a year and rotate out items that should be used soon, replacing them with new ones.

Remember that other facilities in your area also keep a strategic emergency stock. With a regional PPE sharing plan, you can partner with neighboring hospitals, in-network facilities, and/or healthcare coalitions to share inventory for limited supply products.

One more thing: before the flu ramps up, make sure your critical employees are trained and regularly practice proper PPE selection and donning and doffing (removal) procedures.

Know your supplier's supply chain

Just as important as your own strategic stock is the supply you can expect to get promptly in case of a major flu outbreak or pandemic. Many companies have overseas sources for their PPE, so they may take additional weeks to ramp up and deliver critical additional supplies. The suppliers you choose should be able to respond quickly to your requests.

Plan now - so you won't run out later

Just as you would gather the supplies needed for a power outage or other emergency, your healthcare facility needs to plan ahead for flu season. Designate a strategic stock now so you will have the PPE needed for patient and staff protection - whatever this flu season brings.