Hospitals brace for equipment shortages as coronavirus cases surge | News | Palo Alto Online |


Hospitals brace for equipment shortages as coronavirus cases surge

Stanford Health, Palo Alto Medical Foundation among hospitals asking public for help

In order for all area residents to have important local information on the coronavirus health emergency, Palo Alto Online has lifted its pay meter and is providing unlimited access to its website. We need your support to continue our important work. Please join your neighbors and become a subscribing member today.
Hospital executives, doctors and nurses throughout Silicon Valley are bracing for an explosion of demand for N95 masks, gowns and other forms of "personal protective equipment" to shield workers from the coronavirus. Weekly file photo by Veronica Weber.

As Santa Clara County braces for a large wave of coronavirus patients, hospitals are also preparing for a shortage of masks, gowns, respirators and other critical protective equipment.

And they're asking the public for help.

So far, hospitals around the Peninsula aren't seeing the types of equipment shortages that are happening in New York, which has about 10 times the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases as California. Santa Clara County had reported 459 cases and 17 deaths as of Wednesday, though county officials estimate that at least 5,000 county residents — and possibly as many as 10,000 — are currently infected with the virus, County Executive Jeffrey Smith said at the March 24 meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

Dr. Sara Cody, the county's health officer, said Tuesday that case counts are still rising.

"And we anticipate they will continue to do so," Cody said. "I want to say it's still somewhat difficult to understand exactly where we are — the epidemic curve — for a number of reasons. The cases we're identifying now reflect that transmission that was happening in the community one or two weeks ago. There is that lag."

Given the projections, hospital executives, doctors and nurses throughout the area are bracing for an explosion of demand for N95 masks, gowns and other forms of "personal protective equipment."

Palo Alto resident Dr. Enoch Choi, an emergency care physician at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said there is growing concern in his San Jose hospital about an expected surge of patients. Like other hospitals throughout the state, Valley Medical currently only tests those individuals who exhibit symptoms (feverish with a cough or shortness of breath) and those who are either homeless, undergoing chemotherapy or dialysis, or living in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility — places where the virus can spread and cause illness.

Because of these limitations, the hospital hasn't tested too many patients to date. That, however, is expected to soon change. And when it does, Valley Medical and other hospitals will need more supplies, Choi said.

"Once they decide that they have enough ability to test more people, then equipment will be consumed and used more rapidly because we have to dispose of it each time we swab someone," Choi said. "We expect we'll quickly exhaust our supply."

As the county's largest hospital, Valley Medical has been particularly successful in obtaining contributions from the community. The Valley Medical Center Foundation has already received $4 million in pledges from area companies and individuals to battle COVID-19, said Chris Wilder, the foundation's CEO. Of that amount, $2 million has already been provided and the remaining $2 million is slowly being released.

The foundation has also received a huge influx of N95 masks, gowns, face shields, sanitizing wipes and other critical supplies for the hospital system, Wilder said.

"We have roomfuls of equipment now. Our entire office has been transformed into a distribution center. Millions of units of products have come in," Wilder said. "Right now, the whole plan is to get ready for what may come in the next week or two."

Other hospitals throughout the area are similarly looking for new ways to bolster their supply of personal protective equipment for the coming fight.

Sutter Health, the parent company of Palo Alto Medical Foundation, has recently put out a call for donations. Rishi Sikka, president of Sutter Health System Enterprises, said in a statement that the health system is "pursuing additional avenues to bolster and conserve our supplies, so we can meet critical community need while maintaining patient and front-line staff safety."

"Like all hospitals and health systems during this unprecedented health emergency, Sutter Health anticipates a shortage of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment," Sutter announced in a statement.

Sutter Health has taken numerous measures to address diminishing availability of personal protective equipment, a Sutter spokesperson told the Weekly. This includes moving supplies around the system to ensure all facilities have personal protective equipment and "working to secure additional PPE from conventional and unconventional sources, including receiving donations from the community."

Sutter is specifically requesting donations of N95 masks, surgical masks, procedure masks and paper masks (with ties or elastic); protective glasses or goggles; isolation gowns, painters smocks and paper protective gowns; industrial face shields; and powered, air-purifying respirator hoods. Those wishing to make a donation are asked to call 844-987-6099.

Stanford Health also began accepting donations this week, according to an announcement on its website. The call for donations came exactly a week after David Entwistle, president and CEO of Stanford Health Care, and Lloyd Minor, dean of medicine at Stanford Medicine, offered assurances at a web town hall that Stanford's medical facilities are well equipped.

Minor said Stanford has "stocked up on N95 masks" and is "well prepared to protect our health care workforce from the spread of the virus." Entwistle alluded to the global shortage of personal protective equipment and lauded the university's purchasing staff for visiting foreign countries and securing the needed resources.

"I know some organizations don’t have that, but we want to make sure our staff is protected and has the equipment that they need to do that," Entwistle said at the town hall.

But last weekend, as the number of cases in the area sharply rose, the university put out a call for donations of supplies, including masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, face shields, eye shields, isolation or surgical gowns, respirators and flocked swabs.

"In an abundance of caution as COVID-19 spreads in our community, and with the increased global shortages of supplies, Stanford Medicine is now gratefully accepting donations of needed supplies," Stanford Health announced.

Donations can be mailed to Stanford Health Care, 820 Quarry Road Extension, Palo Alto, CA 94304, Attention: Supply Donations Center. They can also be delivered in-person to the hospital’s facilities at 550 Broadway St., Redwood City (open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.) and at 1119 E. Stanley Blvd., Livermore (open weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

El Camino Health, which operates hospitals in Mountain View and Los Gatos, has similarly asked the public to donate gloves, isolation gowns, hard goggles, disposable eye shields, shoe covers, nurse caps, germicidal disinfecting surface wipes, Clorox disinfecting wipes and masks. Those wishing to donate as asked to call 650-940-7154 or email

"While El Camino Health is currently well-supplied, we want to continue ensuring we have the appropriate resources in place to treat patients with the highest regard to health and safety in any scenario,” the hospital’s website states.

To prepare for the coming shortage, nurses and first responders in the county are also organizing porch pickup of critical items such as disposable gowns, surgical masks, face shields and hand sanitizers. American Medical Response personnel will be making runs to households to pick up equipment between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Those wishing to donate are asked to email and provide their name, address and list of items they wish to donate.

State leaders are also stepping in to help. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that he had already distributed 24.2 million N95 masks to hospitals throughout the state. The state has also secured about 100 million new N95 masks, as well as coverall gowns, face shields and other critical equipment.

"That's good news for those health care leaders that are demanding more, and deserve more," Newsom said in a press conference Wednesday. "I want them to know — when they get off the docks and get through airports and customs — we'll get them out as quickly as we humanly possibly can."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


24 people like this
Posted by Stupid Question
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2020 at 6:55 pm

El Camino Hospital Board for years now has been paying its CEOs north of $800,000 a year with the Voice reporting operating profits in the millions of dollars.

My stupid question is why these geniuses never had a plan for a pandemic or a stockpile of respirators and masks?

Thanks for nothing.

8 people like this
Posted by No comments
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 25, 2020 at 7:17 pm

Integrated healthcare delivery system Sutter Health has announced its financial performance for 2019. Investment income helped offset the losses associated with operations as the organization ended the year with $114 million in 2019 income. The UFCW/California Attorney General settlement and related litigation expenses, one-time capital costs associated with the opening of the Van Ness Campus in San Francisco, and costs associated with the wildfires and public safety power shutoffs contributed to operating losses of $548 million. Sutter Health posted $737 million in investment income and changes in net unrealized gains and losses from investments in 2019, compared to $(267) million the prior year.

6 people like this
Posted by Lara
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 25, 2020 at 7:24 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

13 people like this
Posted by Russ
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 25, 2020 at 7:30 pm

Feds had 2 months to ramp up.

Criminal malfeasance.

12 people like this
Posted by Stupid Question
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2020 at 7:35 pm

And what is already heading their way is the fact that they will now deny attempts to resuscitate when patients code, claiming triage protocols. They will claim this saves lives. Understandable, yes. Elderly patients and those with serious underlying conditions will be left to die alone unfortunately. The ironic twist in the balancing act is that these same hospitals made a business of burning through hundreds of thousands of dollars in critical equipment to prolong the lives of critically ill elderly patients only a few days. As the many of the deaths reported by the county indicate, many were elderly patients that we now recognize had little chance of surviving anyway. A few yes, but most no. Regardless the hospitals will bill the insurance companies to recoup. Profits above care. And now they go begging for supplies. It's a fine system we've created. No one said boo all along. Oh and just wait for your premiums to go up.

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 25, 2020 at 7:45 pm

Nonsense! Did Santa Clara county had to wait until there were 17 deaths to start asking for N95 mask donations? Total number of tests conducted by Santa Clara County health department is 647 as of March 22. This is not the per day number, it is the total until now! How ridiculous it is that they did not try to increase testing in a hard hit area.

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Lara
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 25, 2020 at 8:34 pm

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Carol Scheufele
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2020 at 2:55 am

I remember back when isolation gowns were made of cloth & were placed in covered hampers after use. When hampers were full they were wheeled into nearby larger enclosed bins. Then wheeled to a onsite laundry boiler room plants.They were sterilized in large vats by knowledgeable long time staff.
Then they closed the the laundry department & contracted it out. The linen was trucked to places like Gilroy & back for cleaning (You often got another hospital’s linen back). Going one time use throw away eliminated the need for laundry room staff/employees. Maybe it is time to rethink always relying so heavily on these throw-a-ways under these dire circumstances.

2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2020 at 10:46 am

Posted by Carol Scheufele, a resident of another community

>> I remember back [...] knowledgeable long time staff.
>> Then they closed the the laundry department & contracted it out.

This is what happens when bean-counters make serious management decisions. They "optimize" the wrong things to cut costs. Happens every time in every industry. Only, this time, the result is going to be enormous financial costs, and, the lives of many of us are going to be significantly shortened. Nobody will tie it back to all the poor decisions made at so many levels by bean counters. It will probably take three of these disasters in a row before people wise up and remake the system to handle a coronavirus-like pandemic.

2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 26, 2020 at 2:05 pm

Here's a Pew Research survey on whether the public believes there are shortages. Pretty incredible how few believe there are. Note the political breakdown. Web Link

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Stay up to date on local coronavirus coverage with our daily news digest email.

Drive-thru farmers markets? The Peninsula's food industry pivots to the new normal.
By Elena Kadvany | 8 comments | 5,947 views

Coronavirus: Plan ahead now for a big outbreak
By Diana Diamond | 22 comments | 4,731 views

The first few seconds after awakening; before I remember the virus
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,974 views

How COVID-19 Affects Communities
By Jessica Zang | 19 comments | 1,643 views

Can you Stay Healthy without Making More Trash?
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 1,323 views



The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details