NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The rather non-descript clothes line stretches across the room at the Clinical Research Center in the medical center north building at Vanderbilt.

It’s only when the lights are turned off that it really starts to shine.

Rather, glow. Purple, in fact.

It’s not really the line, and the masks attach to it, that emit the color, but rather faintly reflect the ultraviolent light coming from two immobile robots stashed in the room.

“It’s like being in a giant tanning bed,” jokes Robin Adkins, an operating room nurse who is also the senior director of clinical engagement.

It was Adkins’ job, along with a team of others, to come up with a way to preserve and disinfect PPE, as COVID-19 was pushing their supplies to the limit.

“When we came up on the problem of not having enough n95s, (we were) trying to preserve the allocations that we had,” Adkins said.

The idea came from a protocol developed at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and has kept Vanderbilt ahead of the curve as the metro coronavirus task force predicts a surge of COVID-19.

“The likelihood of outbreaks is high, still,” said Dr. James Hildreth, CEO of Meharry Medical College.

Hospitals across Middle Tennessee are closely watching their supplies of PPE, knowing they must extend their usage.

At Vanderbilt, the masks are spaced five inches apart and placed in a room specifically painted.

Once the room is evacuated, the ultraviolet lights come on, and the masks are disinfected within fifteen minutes.

Adkins said they are now disinfecting 200 to 300 masks a day.

Hospitals across the region tell News4 Investigates they are aware that the overall supply chain for PPE has not improved since the crisis began.

As for PPE inventory, the suspension of elective procedures in hospitals for the past several weeks has helped to conserve PPE, although supplies remain limited in some locations,” emailed Kristin Day, director of Marketing for the Tennessee Hospital Association.

A spokeswoman for Tristar Hospitals wrote that their hospital has the supplies they need at this time, but that they are adopting specific protocols, outlined by the CDC, for the appropriate reuse of certain PPE.

John Howser, Vanderbilt Medical Center’s communication’s director, emailed their supply is current good, but added, “there is an awareness that ending the Safer at Home orders will cause a spike in new cases which would increase PPE consumption. Our Supply Chain leaders are already looking ahead to ensure we continue to be appropriately prepared. “  

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Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

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