BOSTON — Frustrated with a critical shortage of manpower and equipment to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, the state is soliciting donations of masks, gloves and other protective equipment and putting out a call for volunteers to work on the front lines of the public health crisis.
State officials say hospitals and health care facilities are struggling to respond to the virus, which had infected 5,752 people and killed 56 in the state as of Monday. Many facilities are at risk of running out of crucial supplies.
"We have a constant demand and need for personal protective equipment for our medical, first responder and essential service communities," Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said. "Over the past week, hundreds of deliveries of PPE have been made to front-line health care providers, and first responders, but we need so much more."
Among the list of items the state is seeking: air-purifying respirators, N95 or N99 masks, face masks with built-in shields, gloves, gowns, booties, head covers, sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer.
Sudders said there is also an urgent need for respiratory therapists and public health nurses to volunteer to help with the state's response to the virus.
Last week, the state eased the rules on nurse practitioners to allow those with at least two years of supervised practice to see patients without a doctor's supervision as the state maneuvers to fill a shortage of medical personnel dealing with the outbreak. The order includes nurse anesthetists, midwives and psychiatric nurse specialists.
The state has set up an online portal — www.mass.gov/covid-19-ppe-procurement-and-donation-program — to collect supplies and register volunteers.
Front-line medical workers say personal protective gear has been in short supply as the outbreak worsens.
"Our health care workers are being put in the position of caring for their patients without the proper supplies to protect themselves and their patients," Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker last week.
"Over the past several days, we have worked with many groups to collect and distribute disposable N95 masks to front-line health care workers providing direct care to patients — but there are still not enough," she added.
The association said some people have offered to sew handmade masks, which it called "generous" but not "appropriate for front-line health care workers."
Many companies have donated medical supplies and equipment to the state's hospitals and health care facilities to help with the virus response.
For example, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Nevins Farm in Methuen recently sent 300 surgical masks to Lawrence General Hospital.
The state has already spent more than $28 million on protective equipment to date — including masks and gloves — and has placed more than $50 million in orders for additional supplies, including a request for 1,000 ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile that was approved over the weekend.
On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker said the state received another shipment of protective equipment from the stockpile over the weekend. The supplies are being distributed to hospitals.
In recent days, Baker has been visibly upset at the inability of the state to obtain protective equipment through the Trump administration and other sources. He said governors have been struggling to purchase equipment through wholesalers because they are being outbid by the federal government.
"For governors, the issue of personal protective equipment has been a difficult one, and I've made that clear to the (Trump) administration," Baker told reporters Monday.
Still, Baker said businesses and residents have responded "with tremendous strength and generosity" and that the state has been flooded with offers to donate or sell protective gear.
"We are fortunate to be home to so many resourceful people and successful businesses that have met this pandemic as an opportunity to do something positive and good for their communities," he said. "Our command center has been contacted by hundreds of individuals and businesses willing to donate or sell PPE to the commonwealth."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.