Survey: Pharmacists frustrated by trying to secure masks from Strategic National Stockpile

A new survey of hospital-based pharmacists examines their access to protective equipment.(Getty/jacoblund)

Amid concerns about dwindling stockpiles of protective equipment, pharmacists are expressing frustration with their hospitals’ ability to obtain masks from the national stockpile. 

A new survey from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) polled 382 hospital-employed pharmacists and found that 28% had requested masks from the Strategic National Stockpile. 

Of that number, 47% did not receive masks as requested, the survey found. Eric Maroyka, senior director of the ASHP Center on Pharmacy Practice Advancement, said members—especially those in high-risk areas such as New York—find the stockpile a “sore spot,” as there’s a lack of transparency around what’s available and how to best engage with officials to obtain supplies. 

“Our members are scared, they’re tired,” Maroyka said. “It shouldn’t be this difficult to protect the health and safety of those putting their lives on the line to take care of patients in need.” 

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He said that running into these challenges amid the pandemic is putting additional stress on some of the pharmacists and that when the crush of COVID-19 has passed there should be time to assess the most effective way to run the stockpile in the future. 

The survey also found that many hospital-based pharmacists are reusing masks for sterile compounding, or when they create a medication in a sterile environment. Fifty-eight percent of those who perform sterile compounding said they are reusing masks, and 6% said they’re using alternative masks, such as non-shedding cloth masks. 

In addition, 56% said they’re struggling to obtain sterile isopropyl alcohol to use. 

Maroyka said reusing masks poses a notable risk, as it can introduce spores into the sterile environment. Some hospitals are applying immediate use protocols, which prevents these products from sitting on the shelves, to mitigate the risks. 

“It's really a domino effect,” Maroyka said. 

The number of pharmacists surveyed overall who are struggling to obtain surgical masks and who are either going without masks or using alternatives was 42%, a 27-percentage point increase from ASHP’s first survey two weeks ago. 

Ninety-five percent said their organizations had a plan to conserve masks, with 81% rolling out the plans.