California's Legislature passed two bills Monday night that would require healthcare providers to create stockpiles of personal protective equipment for their workers.
The bills, SB 275 and AB 2537, now go to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will need to sign or veto them by Sept. 30.
Under SB 275, healthcare providers, including hospitals and nursing homes, must create a 45-day stockpile of PPE and the California Department of Public Health must create a 90-day PPE stockpile by June 1, 2023, or one year after the adoption of the regulations, whichever is later.
More urgently, AB 2537 requires general acute-care hospitals to stockpile a three-month supply of PPE by April 1 or face a fine of up to $25,000.
Workers' organizations say these protections are long overdue, while providers say they are already plagued with supply chain issues trying to meet the immediate need of the pandemic.
"The next time there is a health emergency our hospitals and other healthcare providers will be prepared with the protective equipment workers need to take care of patients safely. Our healthcare heroes deserve the security of knowing the supplies are in place before another pandemic or crisis hits," said Steve Trossman, a spokesperson for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, a union representing healthcare workers that backed SB 275.
Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association, said hospitals "share the goals of both PPE bills passed by the California Legislature" to bolster the supply of PPE for healthcare workers.
"It is critically important to remember, however, that we are still in the midst of the pandemic, and there are still significant challenges with the global supply chain of PPE. PPE is more than just N95 masks; it's also disposable gloves, disposable gowns and face shields. The reliable supply of all of these items varies greatly, sometimes on an hourly basis," Emerson-Shea said.
Meeting AB 2537's April 1 deadline will be "complicated by the continuing global supply shortage and the fact that we will likely still be in the midst of the pandemic," she said.
Stephanie Robertson, director of government relations for the California Nurses Association, which backed AB 2537, said she hopes the bill will start a national conversation on PPE protections for workers.
"This pandemic has no doubt uncovered the failures on all levels of government—at the state and national levels—to be prepared at times of a pandemic," she said. "A lot of our members have died because they were not adequately protected on the job."
Nationally, there have been nearly 151,000 reported cases of COVID-19 among healthcare providers and 671 deaths, according to the latest federal data.