Face masks, shields being made locally

Apr 10, 2020

N95 masks, hanging in paper bags for 72 hours before reuse.
Credit South Peninsula Hospital

Elective surgeries at South Peninsula Hospital are on hold while the hospital prepares it’s response to COVID-19. That has left certified registered nurse anesthetist, Robert Austin with some time on his hands. He’s using that time to serve as the resident SPH PPE Guru, he says. 

“When I say PPE or Personal Protective Equipment, I’m referring to disposable gowns and gloves, the N95 masks that we hear so much about, face shields and then also a piece of equipment called a PAPR - powered air-purifying respirator. We utilize disposable TYVEK suits as well,” he said.

    Administering anesthesia in surgery means he’s been wearing PPEs for years so he’s putting his experience to work. Austin says last Friday the CDC released guidelines saying N95 masks can’t be used more than 5 times, so the hospital developed a system for sterilizing them. 

“That was put them in a paper bag, let them hang somewhere that they can get air flow to them for 72 hours. That’s the time it takes for the coronavirus to die on the masks,” Austin said. “There was a study between Stanford and the University of Tennessee looking at repurposing blanket warmers to sterilize the N95 masks. We’re about halfway through the plan to implement that for our acute care, emergency room and alternate care sites.”

Austin isn’t the only person taking on new responsibilities in response to COVID. Anna Hermanson is the Director of Finance at South Peninsula Hospital. For the time being, she’s going by the title, Unit Supply Leader. Hermanson says most supplies the hospital receives are from private companies.

We received minimal supplies from the state, which actually came from the national stockpile. The national stockpile allocated items to each state and so some were allocated to Alaska,” she said. “We did submit a request for items that we were short on so we did receive a few gowns and a few masks and a few gloves – not a lot, so we’ve been getting creative.”

Hermanson says many of their regular suppliers have started rationing the number of units per order, so keeping up with ordering and finding new suppliers is the practice, right now, she credits one longtime SPH employee as the reigning queen of the supply chain. 

“We have an amazing team here at the hospital. Maria Soto has been with us for many years and she’s been phenomenal at finding vendors,”
 Hermanson said.

Incidentally, Soto is also a volunteer DJ at your favorite public radio station.

One thing the hospital doesn’t need to order is face shields. That’s because
 community members are stepping up. NOMAR is cutting fabric and plastic with its own production line equipment and then distributing the material to mask makers all over the peninsula. Kate Mitchell, founder of NOMAR, gives credit to the local seamstresses making masks and to hometown 3D printer operators making shields.

“Casey Eberly was the initial person who reached out to the Homer community and he had found it on the internet as an open source thing to be made. Then,Tyson Schafer and Matthew Snyder joined the effort,” Mitchell said. “
So, you know, that's that. What can we do? The girls are running their sewing machines and these three fellas had the 3D printers, and what we did was to use our auto matrix  computer cutting table to cut the parts and pieces to pass through to that group.” 

The design firm Skiff Chicks on Pioneer Avenue is the drop off location for homemade masks. From there, they go to South Peninsula Hospital to be sterilized and then distributed.