Franciscan hospitals find fake N95 masks in storage

None of the impacted inventory was put into use, hospital official says.

It appears Virginia Mason Franciscan dodged a bullet when it came to reports of fake N95 masks having been distributed to hospitals around Washington.

On Monday, Feb. 8, the Washington State Hospital Association sent out a press release stating 3M — the manufacturer of the masks — had discovered that some of the masks given to hospitals were not actually made by the company.

“These masks had the appropriate paperwork and passed physical inspection and testing,” Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of the WSHA, said in the release. “These N95s are precious resources we need to keep staff safe. It is reprehensible that counterfeiters are selling fake goods.”

According to WSHA spokesperson Beth Zborowski, up to 1.9 million fake masks could have been distributed, though it’s unclear exactly how many fake masks were distributed with real ones. It’s unclear how many were given to local hospitals like St. Elizabeth in Enumclaw and St. Francis in Federal Way.

However, Virginia Mason Franciscan (formerly CHI Franciscan, which runs St. Francis) sent out a system-wide press release about the masks.

“Virginia Mason Franciscan Health received notice of counterfeit N95 masks in the Washington supply last week. We evaluated all inventory across our sites and discovered some of our system’s supply included the counterfeit N95s. Fortunately, none of the impacted inventory was put into use, and has been sequestered and reported for further investigation. At this time, we have sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to continue current operations, and we do not anticipate any supply shortages as a result of this issue,” said Cary Evans, VP of communications and government affairs at the healthcare system. “We echo the frustrations expressed by the Washington State Hospital Association and our fellow health care organizations in the region. Actions that willfully impact the safety of health care workers on the front lines of this pandemic, and in turn the safety of our patients, are completely unacceptable.”

According to the Seattle Times, other health care systems weren’t so lucky; the MultiCare Health System, which has clinics in Auburn and Sumner, found fake masks in more than 500 of their clinics around the state.

In a Feb. 8 press briefing, Sauer said there has been no increase in COVID-19 cases in hospitals where staff were wearing the fake masks, although it’s unclear if the fake masks offer any sort of protection against the virus.

“It is incredibly disheartening. Really, really frustrating to discover we have these masks,” she continued.