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Companies Step Up to Help Produce Protective Equipment during Pandemic

Innovative thinking and ideas know no limits in the Rocket City, famous for finding solutions to complex problems and managing complicated situations.

The list of needs from the hospitals as they ramp up preparations for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases include surgical and procedural masks, N95 masks, isolation gowns, gloves, face shields, face goggles, ventilators, and swabs. However, it is the “other things” category that breathes life into Huntsville’s smartest minds during this unprecedented medical crisis.

Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center are, of course, at the heart of these efforts. The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has taken unprecedented steps to coordinate small business and manufacturing efforts to provide additional equipment and supplies to health care providers throughout the community, in the event our area gets overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

From the very beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Madison County companies and manufacturers large and small have been participating in these efforts, some adjusting their operations, while others are adapting to needs as they arise, and donating goods and services.

Lucia Cape, senior vice president of Economic Development at the Chamber, is spearheading the manufacturing efforts, maintaining an ongoing list of needed items and locations where businesses can drop off those donations, including the Chamber office on Church Street downtown.

“The manufacturing of these supplies, whether it is something you already manufacture, or something you can modify, the Chamber is running that information down and giving it to Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood to help them coordinate it,” Cape said. “Both hospitals are getting overwhelmed right now with the medical aspects of COVID-19 and this helps keep things in the proper channels.”

The Chamber holds regular calls with manufacturers to get clarification about what items can and can’t be made outside and over their existing supply chain or existing distributor base; and what the procedures are for getting a design approved.

Many of the requests are in reference to face shields, but Cape said several companies responded, offering anything from machine tooling shops that can make metal parts for ventilation carts and shelves, to 3D printers, and shops which specialize in custom injection moldings that can make pretty much anything.

And anything can mean taking on unexpected problems.

One of the things that has arisen from the making of N95 masks, for instance, is that prolonged wearing of the masks has shown to cause some skin breakdown on the bridge of the nose of clinical staff. There may be an opportunity for a device that could cushion the nose and prevent that from happening.

Cape said it is things like that that create unexpected opportunities that might not be on an original list of needs, but for which the Chamber is happy to be a clearinghouse.

“If you have things to sell, donate or have some great ideas, bring them to the Chamber so we can make sure they pass through the right channels and we will connect you directly,” Cape said.

Also, if the hospitals reach a point in which they don’t need some of these items any longer, the Chamber is setting up distribution throughout the community to doctor’s offices and clinics inside and outside our community to help.

Other creative ideas consist of converting CPAPs into ventilators; using plexiglass to make intubation domes; and making ventilator helmets based on a design from a company in Texas that looks like a space suit helmet. One manufacturer on a teleconference call with the Chamber hinted that surely someone in Huntsville can make that.

Study: Ventilator helmets said to be better than traditional face masks.

A couple of companies are assessing whether local doctors and respiratory therapists would embrace that kind of therapy if it were available.

Yet another company is tooling up a sanitization assembly line at Lincoln Mill that can bleach manufacturing parts intended to go into the supply chain.

Another company has offered to repair broken or failing electronic, plastic, or metal equipment.

Companies are also looking at ways to be more efficient, for instance, cutting the filtration material used for making N95 masks differently, and basically getting four masks out of what was originally one.

“We just want to make sure before anyone goes down that track that it is something the hospitals can accept, made by someone from outside the supply chain,” said a spokesperson for the company.

A representative from Huntsville Hospital said he thinks the FDA has waived some of the rules during this pandemic and if they begin running low on anything at some point, emergency authorizations they have already received, give them clear guidance that if reasonable health care professionals and doctors agree these ideas are an acceptable way to do it, then it will be okay.

Many large companies have stepped up to the plate as well.

PPG, which employs 700 people in Huntsville, announced it will donate 50,000 surgical masks and 10,000 N95 masks to several hospitals in the United States including Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center.

“PPG is proud to support the medical community as they courageously continue their work on the frontlines of this global pandemic,” said Michael H. McGarry, PPG chairman and chief executive officer. “As One PPG family, we will continue to work with our community partners to provide support and deploy resources wherever possible. We look forward to a brighter future, together.”

Several local companies have donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to help hospitals and medical workers stock up on supplies. Adtran, Aerojet Rocketdyne, ATI, Brown Precision, Bruderer, Dynetics, Facebook, HudsonAlpha, Huntsville Utilities, John Blue Company, Matcor-Matsu, Mazda, Toyota Manufacturing USA, Inc., Mitchell Plastics, Navistar, Polaris, Remington, Turner Construction, TVA, and the UAH College of Nursing have all donated several thousand pairs of reusable protective eyewear to Huntsville Hospital, Madison Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, one of the area’s top employers, has kicked into high gear in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. TMMA is helping curb the spread of the virus by donating masks, safety glasses, shoe/boot covers, gloves, blankets, and cotton swabs to medical personnel.

The automobile engine company is also utilizing its facilities to mass fabricate 3-D printed face shields here in Huntsville.

According to Jeff Samms, COO of the Huntsville Hospital System, Toyota has a nice design for the shields and are now making hundreds of them for the hospital..

“The unknowns for all of us on this is what’s going to affect utilization,” he said. “COVID-19 patients use this isolation equipment at many times the normal rate, so there is an exponential growth in our use of the product, and we don’t know what the demand is going to be.”

Most of the hospitals admit their normal supply chains are broken right now and they are never quite sure what they’re going to get.

Toyota is also offering manufacturing and engineering expertise in support of any company seeking to increase their capacity for making medical supplies and equipment like ventilators and respirators.

The automaker continues to assist in providing essential supplies and emergency relief through local organizations and nonprofits, including significant monetary, “in-kind” donations to the United Way, community food banks, and to other key non-profit organizations geared towards helping those in need.

“Toyota’s core value has always been to contribute to society in meaningful ways beyond providing mobility for our customers,” said Ted Ogawa, incoming CEO, TMNA. “With our plants idled and our dealers focused on servicing customers, we are eager to contribute our expertise and know-how in order to help quickly bring to market the medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the COVID crisis. Our message to the medical equipment community is we are here to help, please utilize our expertise.”

Although currently, the “numbers” – that is the number of infected patients in Madison County hospitals – have not reached the critical level first projected, Chamber President and CEO Chip Cherry said, “We are incredibly grateful for the response from our business community to help our hospitals and first responders stock up on their supplies.

“It has been so good to see boxes of items come in over the last few days. We know these will help in the days to come. We know there is strength in numbers, and we and our members are committed to getting through this together.”

 

 

Huntsville Hospital Finds Partner for Test Kits; Preparing For Peak in Cases

The Huntsville Hospital Health System recently signed an agreement with a wholesaler to supply 200 COVID-19 test kits a day, CEO David Spillers said. The agreement allows the hospital to process kits in its own lab every day, beginning late this week or early next week.

“One of the problems we have been facing is getting access to labs,” Spillers said. “We have the ability to test for COVID-19, but we don’t have the supplies needed to do as much testing as we need.”

On a daily small business teleconference call at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce this week, Spillers gave an overall situational analysis of where his hospital chain is in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spillers said there are 800 patients in the hospital and eight of them are confirmed COVID-19 patients. A single COVID-19 inpatient requires 10 times as many resources as a regular patient, Spillers said.

He said some 116 patients across the entire hospital system are waiting for testing results, which can take 24 to 48 hours. Until they know the results, they must treat those 116 patients as if they are positive, even though most of them will be negative.

“In the meantime, we’re consuming massive amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) resources like gowns, face shields, N95 surgical masks and gloves.” Spillers said. “This new agreement will allow us to turn those 116 patients around faster because we won’t have to wait so long for lab results.

“That will get those testing negative off the resources utilization train.”

Thousands of people tested

Spillers said the Huntsville Hospital system has tested thousands of patients over the last two weeks thanks to testing centers set up in the area. Last Friday, he said they tested close to 600 patients in Huntsville, which is why the positives are going up.

“The more people we test, the more positives we’re going to find,” he said. “Right now, luckily, the number of inpatients is not going up nearly as fast as we were expecting, but that still might happen. Obviously, our fear is an influx of COVID-19 patients.”

A higher than normal use rate is what concerns him.

“You’ve seen the curves on the chart where the trend line sort of goes up slowly and then peaks,” Spillers said. “Well, we’re still on the slow part of the slope and looking at several models, it will be somewhere around two weeks before we reach our peak.”

He said testing is important and by the time they reach that peak, they expect the number of patients to be higher.

“You can see how if we find ourselves with 100 COVID-19 patients, what an enormous amount of resources that will consume,” he said.

One of the first steps was deferring all elective surgeries in the regional hospitals in Athens, Decatur, Helen Keller and Red Bay.

Businesses step up to produce equipment

Spillers also said the outreach from companies to make needed protective equipment, such as face shields and masks, is overwhelming.

“We’ll take all the help we can get right now because our normal supply chains are broken,” he said. “The shipments for a lot of this stuff comes from overseas, and a lot of it’s going to hot spots in the country like New Orleans and New York and other places.

“This disruption in our supply chain means we’re not getting what we would normally get. We have gone off our purchasing contracts to try to buy stuff that was just out there, and we were able to acquire some masks – in fact we should get some more masks in later this week to help shore up our supplies.”

Several entities have stepped up and the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce is leading the way by helping coordinate community businesses that believe they can help by making some of the needed supplies and PPE.

Spillers said the help is much needed because his supply staff doesn’t have time to run down the dozens of different opportunities people are offering.

“Right now, we have Toyota Manufacturing meeting with some of our supply people to look at some things they think they can make,” said Spillers. “We have had people say they think they can 3-D print some supplies and a lot of people wanting to see the individual equipment to determine whether they can make it, how fast and how many.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a situation where we’re going to get too much of anything, but if we do, we will make sure we get it to some other area in need.”

Businesses that want to contribute should contact Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president for economic development, industry relations and workforce, at 256-535-2033 or visit https://hsvchamber.org/category/news/covid-19/.

DIYers Stitch Up to Help Fight Shortage of Medical Masks

The clock is ticking and, with each passing day, the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus increases in the United States.

In fact, according to The New York Times, at least 81,000 people are know to have been infected in the United States, including more than 1,000 deaths. It is more cases than any other country has seen.

In Alabama, four people have died, including one in Madison County.

As hospitals face the crisis head-on, there’s a shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), especially masks. Without adequate protection, health care providers are fighting the battle as if walking a greased tightrope without a safety net.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a strategic reserve of masks, hospital officials are concerned that the stockpiles will soon be depleted.

Getting new masks has become a real challenge for those on the front lines of patient care. At the national level, there have been numerous accounts of medical staff rationing and reusing the scant supplies that they do have. This practice comes with its own set of risks.

To help address the mask shortage, doctors, nurses and hospitals throughout the United States have reached to social media.

They have targeted their appeal to the creative types that know their way around a sewing machine; those restless souls with time on their hands and a desire to give, and to those who desperately need a news break – during one of the most challenging times our nation has faced in recent history.

Deaconess Health System in Evansville, Ind., is one of the many examples of a medical establishment relying on Facebook in their efforts to get DIY face masks.

The data regarding whether DIY masks are effective or even useful is mixed, with as many opinions on the matter as are there are patterns to make the masks.

On its website under “Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of Facemasks,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that a homemade mask is an acceptable last resort. A DIY mask is better than no protection at all.

In response to the DIY mask appeal, a national movement emerged.

Seemingly overnight, seamstresses throughout the United States began mobilizing their efforts in a very short period of time.

Here in Huntsville, the DIY mask making effort has taken off like a rocket.

Lisa Ordway, costume mistress for the Huntsville Ballet, was one of the first to step up to the presser foot.

“I started reading all about it, there’s a program out West, it was very well organized,” said Ordway, referring to Washington State Hospital’s ‘100 Million Mask Challenge.’ “I don’t know if we’re quite in their situation, but we could be and we may as well get ahead of the curve.”

Once word got out that Ordway was making masks, she became the overnight go-to resource; her text, e-mail, and Facebook site were deluged with inquiries. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Ordway took the Deaconess pattern and made a few design modifications; to improve fit and to accommodate a filter insert.

“We started out one way, making masks with elastic going around the ears,” said Ordway.

After nurses at Madison Hospital received the first batch, they expressed a need for wiring for the top part above the nose and to replace the elastic with ties, both features designed to ensure a more secure fit.

“So, we changed directions and did that,” said Ordway. “And we added a pocket for them to be able to put a filter in.”

Ordway’s modified version of the DIY mask can be found at www.facebook.com/lisa.g.ordway.

Local quilter Rhoda Johnson took on the DIY mask cause after reading various social media appeals from quilting guilds across the country.

Local quilter Rhoda Johnson used a variety of whimsically patterned fabrics to create masks for the staff at Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children.

Using a variety of whimsically patterned fabrics, Johnson plans to deliver her finished DIY masks to Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children. She said the masks can be worn over the PPE masks; the bright and fun DIY masks might bring a smile to the pediatric patients’ faces.

At last count, Johnson had 205 masks cut, stitched and pleated; all waiting for the elastic to be added.

Due to an online supply stock out, Johnson quickly shifted gears and began creating pairs of 22-inch ties to replace the elastic, using fabric already on hand. Johnson used the Deaconess pattern to make the masks at www.deaconess.com/masks.

YoungSu Hoy and Portia Stanley, ICU nurses at Crestwood Medical Center, have also gotten involved in the DIY mask-making effort.

Although Hoy said Crestwood’s PPE supply is adequate, “we’re trying to be prepared with different options in a worst-case scenario.” The pattern that Hoy and Stanley are using can be found at https://youtu.be/BCJcE-r7kcg

Hoy anticipates that their finished masks are more likely to be distributed among the civilian population, as opposed to the front line medical personnel.

“I do know some citizens are wanting them,” said Hoy. “I’ll bet nursing homes would appreciate them, too.”

 

 

 

Robins & Morton Building on Relationships for a Growing Huntsville

The first building constructed by Robins & Morton was a Shell gas station in 1946.

The Birmingham-based company now has offices in Huntsville, Nashville, Charlotte, Dallas, Orlando, and Miami.

Huntsville Hospital’s seven-story, 382,000-square foot Orthopedic & Spine Tower is expected to be completed in 2021. (Photo/Robins & Morton-Marty Sellers)

“We’ve grown quite a bit since then, obviously,’’ said Mitch Coley, operations manager for the Huntsville office.

Robins & Morton is no stranger to the Rocket City. The firm began a relationship with Huntsville Hospital 31 years ago, and Coley said that partnership is “the backbone’’ of its business in the city.

Two towering cranes just off Gallatin Street are part of the construction for Huntsville Hospital’s seven-story, 382,000 square-foot Orthopedic & Spine Tower. It’s expected to be completed in 2021.

But while hospital construction is Robins & Morton’s calling card, Coley said diversity, particularly in Huntsville, is part of its footprint.

Next to the hospital tower, the finishing touches are being put on Redstone Federal Credit Union’s five-story, Class-A office building with an adjoining four-story parking deck.

“The exterior of the office building is close to complete and it’s a very striking structure,’’ Coley said. “That project will wrap up at the end of this year.”

Robins & Morton recently placed a tower crane downtown for the upscale 106 Jefferson, Curio by Hilton.

“As you can see from the cranes rising above downtown,’’ Coley said, “We have three major projects transforming the Huntsville skyline.”

Robins & Morton is working with Redstone Gateway and Sanmina, and counts Times Plaza on South Memorial Parkway among its projects.

Other local Robins & Morton projects are:

  • Intergraph/Hexagon headquarters
  • Calhoun Community College Huntsville Campus Science Lab
  • Parsons Research Park
  • Huntsville Hospital Madison Hospital
  • Governors Medical Tower
  • Huntsville Hospital Athens Surgery Centers
  • Clearview Cancer Institute
  • Rockwell Collins at Research Park
  • Medical Park Station Retail Center
  • Huntsville Hospice Family Came Inpatient Facility

The company’s projects around the state include the Auburn Arena, the Auburn University Recreation and Wellness Center, Regions Field and the Embassy Suites hotel in Tuscaloosa.

Robins & Morton opened a full-service office in Huntsville in 2007 to further take advantage of the city’s exploding growth.

“We knew the best way to serve the business community was to become an ongoing part of the community,’’ Coley said. “And that’s worked well for us. We have more than 223 projects valued at $1.3 billion completed or in progress throughout Huntsville and the surrounding area.

“Even more important to us: 80 percent of that work is from repeat clients.”

Redstone Federal Credit Union’s five-story office building has an adjoining four-story parking deck. (Rendering courtesy of Robins & Morton)

Another company strength is that Robins & Morton, which employs around 170 salaried employees and craft workers, uses its own workforce.

“We self-employee a lot of the work,’’ Coley said. “For instance, the concrete structure (on the tower), we’re doing that with our own men, our own forces. The reason we do that is it helps with cost, schedules, and quality.’’

Robins & Morton’s economic impact in the Tennessee Valley is substantial. The company reports it is responsible for more than 800,000-square feet of new construction with a projected construction value in excess of $225 million; is working with more than 150 trade partners; and expects to create between 800 and 900 full-time equivalent jobs throughout construction.

While Robins & Morton is involved throughout North Alabama, its local presence has been seen and felt mostly in Huntsville’s downtown and hospital district, both of which have undergone a facelift.

A Notasulga native, Coley met his wife Elaine while both were students at Auburn. They have two sons, Miles (6) and Cameron (4).

When he moved here 13 years ago, Coley said he remembers walking downtown on a weekend and finding a “ghost town.’’

“Now, you go down there and there are food truck rallies, laser light shows, people everywhere,’’ he said. “It’s really neat to see.

“We’re glad to be part of that growth.’’

In late spring or summer, Robins & Morton will announce plans for another downtown project.

“We want people to know that we’re not here just for the duration of a project,’’ Coley said. “We’re an established part of the Huntsville business community, and we look forward to continuing to be part of the region’s growth and economic development.

“We’ll continue the strong relationships we’ve maintained over the past 31 years while building new ones.”

 

New Tower is Hospital’s Largest Project in Nearly 40 Years

Huntsville Hospital has broken ground on the biggest medical construction project in the downtown area in almost four decades.

The new Orthopedic & Spine Tower will feature 375,000 square feet of surgical, patient care and specialized physical rehabilitation space in the heart of the hospital campus. The tower will house the hospital’s orthopedic and spine surgery programs.

Scheduled to open in 2021, the seven-story building is across Gallatin Street from the main entrance of Huntsville Hospital; a walking bridge will connect the buildings.

“As our community and region continue to grow, our hospital is keeping pace with the need for advanced health care services and facilities,” said David Spillers, CEO of Huntsville Hospital Health System.

Jeff Samz, the system’s COO, said the Orthopedic & Spine Tower will have 72 private patient rooms, as well as 24 state-of-the-art operating rooms. It will also have a restaurant on the ground floor.

“With the new tower, we will also eliminate most of the semi-private accommodations in our main hospital,” Samz said.

Designed by Chapman Sisson Architects, the Orthopedic & Spine Tower will fill a city block at the corner of Gallatin Street and St. Clair Avenue. It is the largest medical construction project in downtown Huntsville since the hospital opened its north tower in 1980. Robins & Morton is the general contractor.