As Keck Medicine of USC begins the calculated process of reopening certain services, some things, such as the organization’s commitment to protecting its health care workers as well as patients, will not change. The “new normal” of social distancing brings with it plenty of adjustments for patients as well as for the staffers enforcing such precautions. For Keck Medicine staff and administration, this means collaborating in new ways to find a solution when they see a need.

For select physicians, nurses and other health care providers, the use of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) was a regular occurrence as they cared for patients with airborne communicable diseases. But this year, the novel coronavirus pandemic made PPE a requirement for a much broader population of health care workers, following the lead from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These caregivers adjusted to mask-wearing policies broadly, quickly and safely, said Stephanie Hall, MD, MHA, chief medical officer of Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital. In order to be properly fitted for an N95 mask, employees began shaving their facial hair to ensure the proper fit and preserve the use of PAPR, or powered air-purifying respirators, for high-risk situations, she said.

“The masks are designed to block particles that are the same, or similar, size as an airborne pathogen, so getting a proper seal on the mask is important,” Hall said. “We’ve always had a policy in place where if facial hair is an obstruction or does not allow for an adequate fit of the N95, then the employee has to shave or remove the hair. Now that we are in the COVID-19 pandemic, compliance for the policy is more widespread.”

Of course, the increased use of PPE puts more health care workers at risk of other issues, such as skin related injuries from the prolonged use of masks, which is where Employee Health stepped in, Hall said. In partnership with Brittany Wilson, RN, Wound Management Program coordinator at Keck Medical Center of USC, who researched and collaborated with outside entities, the two teams created a prevention and early treatment program to help mitigate these skin injuries caused by PPE that could range from mild irritations to much deeper, scarring wounds.

“I am passionate about taking care of our caregivers. We are offering individualized prevention and treatment plans for employees with skin issues from their PPE while ensuring the PPE still functions appropriately in the presence of these interventions,” Wilson said.

Keck Medicine employees’ dedication to providing patient care is exceptional, Hall said.

“I’m so deeply grateful to our staff who come to work every day with enthusiasm and positivity to make sure our patients get the best possible care,” Hall said. “They’re doing everything possible, even wearing masks that can cause wounds on their cheeks, and I see a lot of heroism here on our team.”

— Melissa Masatani