by Sonya Kullmann
Rows of N95 respirators and droplet masks hang from makeshift clotheslines, as hydrogen peroxide misting equipment fills the room with a vapor that kills both viruses and bacteria.
For weeks, Mercy has been collecting used masks from its co-workers and sending them to its locations in Springfield and St. Louis to be disinfected with the equipment, called Altapure. It’s a system Mercy has used for years to disinfect patient rooms, and as researchers at the University of Nebraska, Duke University and the University of Washington began studying the effectiveness of the technology on personal protective equipment, Mercy watched closely.
“We began talks early with representatives from Altapure about the possibility of using our existing equipment in this new way,” said Dr. Keith Starke, Mercy’s chief quality officer. “Similar misting systems have since received FDA emergency use authorization.”
The research on the Altapure system, published this week in the Pathogens and Immunity journal, shows similar results. Altapure is pursuing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization for use with PPE. Mercy anticipated those research results and started saving and disinfecting masks at the end of March.
“The research shows the system can destroy even hard-to-kill bacteria like C. diff and MRSA,” Dr. Starke said. “That’s significant, because killing a virus like COVID-19 is much easier than destroying bacteria.”
Mercy’s mask disinfection process means more PPE is available if a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases occurs. “While our current supply of new PPE is sufficient, these disinfected masks are a backup for us,” said Stephen Mackin, Mercy senior vice president. “Our use of the hydrogen peroxide misting system was a proactive step to ensure we’ll have additional reserves if we need them.”
The machine calculates the disinfection cycle time based on the size of the room to ensure all surfaces are sufficiently treated. In general, it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to disinfect a room full of masks.
Studies have shown that masks can be reprocessed with hydrogen peroxide misting technology several times without impacting mask fit. However, if Mercy redeploys the masks, co-workers will be asked to verify that masks fit securely. With its current units, Mercy can reprocess as many as 2,500 masks per day, if that volume is ever needed.
Mercy’s environmental services (EVS) and quality teams came together to design the process for safely saving, disinfecting and storing the used masks. “We thought through every step, from ensuring our EVS teams were in appropriate PPE while collecting used masks to how to transport them safely,” said Mark Kastner, director of environmental services at Mercy Hospital Springfield. “We’ve had an EVS team dedicated to mask disinfection for several weeks, and it’s great to be a part of something innovative that may make a difference in keeping our co-workers and patients safe.”