REDMOND, OR (KPTV) - A plant in central Oregon is stepping up to be a part of the PPE shortage solution.

Providence St. Vincent received several boxes of surgical masks earlier this week. These are the same masks health care workers there have already used and reused to the point of having to discard them. But instead of going in the trash, the masks got shipped to Medline ReNewal to undergo a restoration process.

"We're not pretending that that's going to solve the crisis of PPE, but certainly, if it's a bridge and it helps in some small way, we're excited," Medline ReNewal President Frank Czajka said.

Czajka said the company has been sanitizing 5,000 different types of single-use medical equipment for years, but last week was the first time they started doing surgical masks and N95 respirators.

"We have about a 15-year history of sterilizing facial protection products in other businesses of Medline, so we knew the masks would respond well to that cycle," Czajka said.

The cycle Czajka is referring to uses a chemical called ethylene oxide to decontaminate the used masks without damaging them. That's after workers have already manually inspected each mask to make sure there's no tears or makeup or oil stains. If the integrity of the mask is compromised in any way, it's thrown away, Czajka said.

Before workers can even begin inspections, Czajka said the masks sit in a quarantined environment for 72 hours.

"Once they come out of sterilization, we're sorting them again, casing them up and sending them right back," Czajka said.

According to Czajka, ReNewal has the capacity to sterilize 100,000 masks in its Redmond plant per day. Providence-Oregon workers say that could make a big difference.

"This is really going to help us protect our caregivers in Providence," Medical Director for Environmental Stewardship Brian Chesebro said.

Chesebro, also a practicing anesthesiologist, said he wouldn't hesitate for a second to pick up and use one of the masks shipped back from Medline.

"These masks in the processes at ReNewal undergo FDA assessment and approval prior to them coming back to us," Chesebro said, "The FDA has gone in and said, yes, your process is valid, your process is safe."

Medline is now shipping sterilized masks to hospitals all over the country, including New York City.

Copyright 2020 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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