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Healthcare worker clothing inadequately protected - Kappler
Oct '09
According to George Kappler, "If hospitals were subjected to the same protection standards as factories, many would have been shut down a long time ago." Those are tough words for healthcare workers to hear as they brace for an onslaught of H1N1 patients, but the CEO of Kappler, Inc., a 33-year veteran in the protective garment business, knows of what he speaks.

Kappler's line of healthcare garments, called Provent 10,000, is made from APTRA, a breathable microporous film made in Tiverton, ON, Canada by BI-AX Inc., creators of innovative plastic as well as compostable, biodegradable bio-plastic films.

BI-AX produces APTRA microporous film under contract for RKW US, Inc. RKW US, Inc. is based in Rome, GA, USA and is a wholly owned subsidiary of RKW SE, Europe's largest film producer. APTRA is then turned into a fabric that passes ASTM international standards for blood borne pathogen and viral penetration by innovative technology companies like Kappler, Inc. and distributed worldwide.

Provent 10,000 customers include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and "in-the-know" orthopedic surgeons and nurses around the world who insist on the best protective clothing for operating theatres where contact, droplet and airborne transmission of pathogens is a constant risk.

"We always see spikes in interest when something like SARS or bird flu and now swine flu hits, but I admit the healthcare field's a much more challenging market than for industrial, hazardous materials (HAZMAT) and security applications where we do most of our business." Kappler says one reason healthcare workers are inadequately protected from diseases like H1N1 is that, unlike a nuclear contamination incident, it's harder to pinpoint the work environment as the exact source of a life-threatening exposure.

"When a pandemic is underway, hospitals can get away with saying that a worker's disease might have come from outside the workplace," says Kappler. "And it can take a year or more for diseases like Hepatitis or HIV to show up. But the operators of a nuclear or chemical plant don't have the same wiggle room if one of their workers suffers from radiation poisoning or gets a bad burn. The cause and effect is clear and the lawsuits will fly, so they take protective clothing much more seriously in those environments."

Another reason the protection of front-line healthcare workers is compromised boils down to hospital economics. "A Provent 10,000 gown costs $7 to $10 and it'll protect against viral diseases like H1N1 as well as blood-borne diseases like HIV," says Kappler. "Yet we find it often gets compared to a little yellow gown that sells for a couple of bucks that would let a mosquito go through it. It's like comparing apples to raisins, but some hospitals buy what they can get away with to save a few dollars."

This is false economics, with or without a looming pandemic. Statistics from the Cambridge, MA-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement show it costs a U.S. hospital between $50,000 and $100,000 to replace one nurse, not including salary, because of overtime payments, payments to temporary nurses and the recruiting and training process for a permanent replacement.

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