What started as an idea to help neighbors quickly became a regional outreach.
Brian Pace, coordinator of Advanced Manufacturing at New College Institute, approached his interim executive director, Karen Jackson, with a plan to create an additional layer of protection designed to fit over N-95 masks.
Having the technology to produce face shields, NCI made several for workers in local health care facilities.
When word got out about that effort, NCI received donations of money and supplies to fill an even greater need, and before long NCI found itself shipping a total of 800 masks all over Southwest Virginia.
One of the largest contributors quickly became Canon Virginia, located in Newport News. In the wake of the coronavirus, the company known for cameras offered that, if NCI would produce 200 headbands for their plastic face shields, they would donate 400 total shields, the other half already completed.
NCI quickly got to work, using a 3DVerkstan pattern to print headbands on its Makerbot Replicator+. Workers loaded the file to the printer, and each headband took about an hour to print. Pace and his team ran five printers for 10 hours a day to meet the demand.
In a matter of weeks, those 400 shields have been sent to health care organizations from Danville to Appalachia.
“We are a state institution, so there are guidelines and rules that we have to live by, but part of NCI is that we don’t do it just because of our mission,” Jackson said. “It’s part of the fabric of NCI, to be part of the community.
“We provide community services, and so when we started looking at the plight of the rural health workers, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that looking at the supply chain – and I’m not making any political commentary whatsoever about anything – but the supply chain was what it was and is what it is in terms of getting the PPE [personal protection equipment] out to the people that need it.”
Recognizing that high-population areas were getting equipment faster, Jackson said she reached out to a friend in Southwest Virginia to confirm the need. That individual, who works at Health Wagon, a mobile health care unit headquartered in Wise, told Jackson how useful having a face shield would be for herself and others in the region.
“It was about serving the community. It was about being a good rural partner. It was about making sure that they have access to PPE that they need to be able to care for people as well,” Jackson said. “No, thank goodness, the numbers [of cases] aren’t as high as they are in some of the metro areas, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need the same protection, whether they have one or whether they have 100.”
NCI continues to produce the face shields, and Jackson encourages health care organizations that need the extra protections for their employees to contact her.
“We’ve been very fortunate that now, to date, we haven’t had to turn anybody down,” Jackson said. “We have had to say, ‘We’ll get them to you as soon as we can.’ You know, we don’t have a stockpile sitting there where we can send out 1,000 in one shipment.”
So far, the shields have aided those performing home health care, medical transportation, mobile imaging, medical services, nursing homes, family practices, facilities for the mentally disabled and funeral homes.
“We’re really excited to have the opportunity to do it, and hopefully we’re making a little bit of a difference,” Jackson said.