HHS to Begin Shipping 1.5M N95 Masks to Nursing Homes with Supply Shortages Friday

The federal government this week confirmed a plan to distribute 1.5 million N95 respirators to nursing homes with three or fewer days’ supply of the masks.

The Department of Health and Human Services will begin shipping the N95s, sourced from the Strategic National Stockpile, on Friday in quantities sufficient to last each facility for seven days.

“This increase has allowed us to use our existing surge capacity built up in the stockpile to distribute 1.5 million masks to meet the needs of front-line healthcare workers caring for one of our most-affected populations,” Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, the lead of the HHS Supply Chain Task Force, said in a statement. “Our goal is to enable our states to provide longer term support in the fight against COVID-19.”

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The exact amounts will be based on staffing levels at each of the 3,336 nursing homes identified as having critically low stocks of N95 masks, using existing Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) employment data.

“These respirators are meant to supplement existing supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and will provide a seven-day supply for each nursing home to support an entire shift before discarding used products,” HHS announced.

The N95s were produced domestically by manufacturer O&M Halyard, according to HHS; each qualifying nursing home will receive a four-to-one mix of regular and small-sized units “as validated by distribution ratios from the medical distributors.”

The news comes about a week after Bloomberg Law report indicated that a planned federal N95 distribution would flow “into the commercial market” for purchase by nursing homes.

The shipment announced this week will be sent directly to the facilities, a spokesperson for the Strategic National Stockpile confirmed to SNN. The Defense Logistics Agency will handle the shipments of N95s to nursing facilities, according to HHS.

The SNS has 44 million N95s on hand, with orders for an additional 500 million, according to Bloomberg Law.

HHS on Thursday also confirmed the previously announced distribution of $2.5 billion in coronavirus aid directly to nursing facilities, part of a total $5 billion tranche set aside exclusively for the sector earlier this summer.

“The Trump Administration has focused resources throughout our pandemic response on protecting the most vulnerable, including older Americans in nursing homes,” HHS secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “By distributing these funds and providing training resources, we are improving the quality of care in nursing homes and helping them save lives.”