ST. JOHNSBURY — A sterilization machine delivered this week to Northeastern Vermont Medical Center will significantly increase the supply of N95 mask at hospitals and health care facilities in the region.
The Steris machine cleans 100 masks at a time within a 28-minute cycle.
Then each N95 mask, the gold standard for health-care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, can be reused up to 10 times, NVRH announced Friday.
The $134,000 Steris machine is one of four delivered to hospitals in the four corners of Vermont.
“Before getting this equipment, the N95 masks had a short shelf life and had to be thrown away after use, sometimes after only one use if staff came in contact with a patient with respiratory symptoms,” said Julie Schneckenburger, chief nursing officer at NVRH.
“This will allow us to use each mask up to 10 more times,” said Roger Leroux, NVRH Incident Commander.
“That means 500 masks turn into 5,000 masks!”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently granted Steris an emergency authorization to develop a method to sterilize masks.
Laural Ruggles, public information officer at NVRH, said the Vermont Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Coalition and the Vermont Department of Health “worked together to get this resource to Vermont.
“The State of Vermont has purchased four of these machines and they have been delivered to NVRH, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Southwestern Medical Center in Bennington, and Springfield Hospital.
“By taking ownership of this equipment, NVRH has agreed to sterilize N95 masks for the region; that includes other hospitals, long term care facilities, Northern Counties Health Care, and EMS.”
Four more machines are expected to be bought and delivered to other locations in Vermont, Ruggles said.
“This machine actually sterilizes the masks – not just decontaminates them – they are sterilized,” Schneckenburger stated.
“Right now we are in good shape for personal protection equipment, but if supplies become scarce again and/or we see an increase in COVID-19 cases, this equipment will also save us money.
“This machine is now a permanent part of our Central Sterile and Reprocessing department, we will be using this for years to come to sterilize equipment for operating room procedures.”
Leroux said that the new machine also means the U.S. can extend the number of masks available here.
“Having the ability to sterilize masks allows U.S. manufacturers time to gear up to produce and distribute more masks, reducing our reliance on foreign manufacturers. The process of sterilizing the N95 in this way was first tried at Duke University, and UVM Medical Center was a key partner in refining the process,” Leroux said.
“Once again we are very grateful. This will allow us to keep everyone here at NVRH and our health-care partners in the region safe during this pandemic,” said Shawn Tester, CEO of NVRH.