Kalispell Regional Healthcare

KALISPELL- N95 face masks are being worn by healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic because they filter out at least 95 percent of particles. Kalispell Regional Medical Center started sterilizing the masks for reuse.

Connie Ronan, the lead sterile processing technician, said her team sterilizes all the used medical tools at KRMC.

"Nine of us [in the team], in total we have 133 years of experience," Ronan said.

In the last three months she said her female force has sterilized medical tools for over a thousand surgeries. 

When the pandemic broke out, Ronan said there was nationwide concern of N95 mask shortages. The manufacturer of the three sterilization machines KRMC already owned, Sterad, sent instructions on how to safely sanitize the N95 masks for reuse.

After getting the instructions, Ronan's team added sterilizing masks to their already busy plates.

After the N95 masks are worn, employees are KRMC put the masks in brown paper bags and label them with their name. The same person must wear the same mask.

Each day the sterile processing team gets suited up in personal protections equipment or PPE to start the process of sterilizing used N95 masks. 

One of the sterile processing techs will mark the strap with a sharpie to show how many times the mask has been cleaned. An indicator marker is also put in the bag. 

The N95 masks get baked in the Sterad machine with hydrogen peroxide on a low temperature.

The N95 masks can be worn and sterilized only twice.

KRMC health officials said even with the covid-19 cases continuing to climb in Montana, sterilizing N95 masks for reuse is one way to be less wasteful of PPE.