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‘This is a long-term war.’ Texas Medical Center CEO discusses how the system is maintaining PPE supplies to fight COVID-19

HOUSTON – At least 3,000 COVID-19 patients have been treated in the Texas Medical Center. One of the biggest challenges in treating patients of a pandemic is protecting those who work in the hospitals.

"We saw the devastation it was causing," said Texas Medical Center president and CEO William McKeon. "We knew this virus was coming and with that, we also knew we had to really mount up the personal protection equipment."

Long before the first case of COVID-19 showed up in America, McKeon said he and his colleagues knew they needed to prepare.

"We created a war room on day one, all of the CEOs assembled together," he said.

The PPE supply chain was vital in making sure the Texas Medical Center, where the hospitals provide 70% of healthcare in a nine-county area, had what is needed.

PPE items include gloves, masks, eye protection and gowns. Not only are the supplies critical when treating infectious patients, but PPE also has a high “burn rate.”

“You can have beds, but if you cannot protect your nurses, your doctors and your technicians from providing care, you’re just expanding the virus,” said McKeon.

The medical center has an ample supply of all these items. However, McKeon said there is no time to relax.

“Sadly the world will not return to the normal that we knew prior to COVID-19,” said McKeon. “It is going to be with us for a very long time.”

McKeon said aggressive social distancing helped keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed, and he agrees with the staggered re-opening of the state. However, he cautions people not to let their guard down and urges residents to continue the practice of social distancing.

"If you walk into a restaurant and you see a crowded bar, turn around and walk out because that is a recipe for disaster," said McKeon.

McKeon said getting supplies was not easy in the early days of the pandemic because the TMC was competing with other states and countries for these items. Plus, McKeon said many bogus offers were flying around.

"Ninety percent to ninety-five percent of them were fraudulent. Either the equipment didn't exist, or it did exist and they were selling it simultaneously to ten, twenty countries," said McKeon.

Astros owner Jim Crane and his company Crane Worldwide Logistics were instrumental in helping supplies flow to the area as well as helping verify deals, McKeon said.

"He was on those supply chain calls every day," said McKeon. "(He has) boots on the ground that could go into a warehouse in Germany or China and get on the phone immediately and say, 'It's here. We have it. This is a good order.'

Crane's company helped bring in millions of masks, along with hundreds of thousands of nasal swabs, face shields and goggles, according to an April 10 news release from the Astros Foundation. The Foundation also made a $400,000 donation.

McKeon said all the different institutions in the Medical Center worked together as one entity when it came to purchasing PPE. McKeon adds those daily calls in the so-called ‘war room’ are still happening because COVID-19 is not yet gone.

He said all the CEOs still monitor, analyze, and discuss data surrounding COVID-19, as well as treatment plans and ethics.

"It is completely attended every day, seven days a week. No one has missed a meeting," said McKeon. "This is a long-term war. This war is going to last well through this year and into next year,"

McKeon said there are also on-going tabletop sessions to help keep the TMC and surrounding municipalities prepared for everything from holiday social gatherings causing spikes in infection rates to handling a hurricane hitting our area in the middle of a pandemic.

"You don't wait until a division of tanks show up on your eastern border before you decide how you'd approach that," said McKeon.

You can find more data on TMC’s efforts and supplies here.