Inside the monumental task of getting PPE from a DSHS warehouse to front-line workers

There’s a warehouse located in Tumwater, WA that seems like just a normal warehouse unit. But do not let appearances fool you — inside of this unassuming building, real response work to the COVID-19 pandemic is happening.

For years, the warehouse has been a surplus supply facility where Department of Social and Health Services’ employees could go to find the perfect filing cabinet or conference room table. Now, this warehouse is used to store, pack and ship Personal Protective Equipment, more commonly known as PPE, across the state to Individual Providers, Adult Family Homes and Aging and Long-Term Support Administration employees who go into long-term care facilities and in people’s homes as a part of their job duties to deliver essential services or conduct investigations and/or inspections.

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Washington state has around 45,000 individual providers, who provide care to clients of ALTSA and the agency’s Developmental Disabilities Administration, and roughly 3,000 Adult Family Homes. Even prior to Governor Inslee’s guidance to home care workers, DSHS leadership within ALTSA made the call that they would be providing PPE to some of those who are on the front lines of caring for those who are at especially high risk for COVID-19. Some of the funding for this huge venture is from the Families First Corona-Virus Response Act or FFCRA, which provided federal funds on targeted Medicaid Services.

On any given day, kits containing a 31-day supply of PPE, including gloves, masks and, in some cases, gowns are put together by staff at the DSHS Tumwater surplus warehouse for IPs and Adult Family Homes. One of the warehouse managers, Donnie Dickenson, recently toured some of the logistics member from DSHS’ Area Command.

“It is an honor to be a part of this response,” Dickerson said. “We are happy to do it and be a part of this important work.”

Along with the kits sent to Individual Providers and Adult Family Homes, DSHS also sends PPE to other entities such as long-term care facilities, private duty nurses, home care aides who visit clients who have tested positive for the virus and even fire marshals.

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Dickerson and Leland Elliott both manage a team of 10 staff who work each day in the maze of supplies and kits ready to be shipped. What makes their jobs a bit more difficult is the fact that they still have surplus furniture items being stored. The Department of Enterprise Services, which typically takes extra surplus off of state agency hands is no longer accepting furniture due to the pandemic.

Logistics team members from area command are working towards finding alternate placement for the stored furniture and equipment to make more prime real estate available for the PPE and to allow staff to have more room to maneuver throughout the warehouse.

The Tumwater warehouse is one of three that DSHS is using for the receipt, storage and shipment of PPE for the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration. A warehouse in King County and another on the east side of the state, along with other warehouses statewide, also house PPE for staff and clients of the 11 state-run 24/7 facilities, including three psychiatric hospitals that are run by the Behavioral Health Administration and for residential habilitation centers that care for clients of the Developmental Disabilities Administration.

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