Respirator Sewing Appeal Generates Tremendous Response; More Help Needed

Staff Report From South Carolina CEO

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

An urgent appeal issued by Tidelands Health for help sewing new elastic bands on medical respirators has prompted an outpouring of support from near and far, but even more help is needed.

On Tuesday, the health system asked for the community’s help sewing new elastic bands on thousands of new, never-used N95 respirators stored in its warehouse. The respirators were acquired during a previous public health emergency but never used, and the elastic straps have become brittle over time.

In just one day, more than 1,200 area residents have volunteered to sew new bands on the N95 respirators, and a company from four hours away volunteered to donate enough elastic to retrofit 20,000 respirators.

“We’re so glad to be able to step up and help health care providers in our home state of South Carolina,” said Rod Grandy, CEO of Phenix Engineered Textiles in Landrum, South Carolina. “I want to especially recognize Dawn Striff on our team for taking the lead on this donation to the health care professionals at Tidelands Health. We’re proud to do our part to protect the people of our state.”

Professional-grade N95 respirators are an important piece of personal protective equipment used by health care professionals when they perform certain procedures such as intubating patients.

Like health care organizations around the nation, Tidelands Health is facing a shortage of N95 respirators as the health system responds to COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

If the straps on the stored respirators can be replaced, the health system’s supply will be extended by several weeks.

“We are incredibly humbled by the tremendous support we have received for this critical effort,” said Pam Maxwell, the health system’s chief nursing officer. “The challenge is great, and we are hoping more people and businesses will agree to help in the coming days.”

Maxwell said the health system plans to begin distributing the respirators and sewing supplies as soon as Thursday to volunteers who have agreed to replace the elastic straps. Volunteers who have signed up will be contacted in waves over the next few days and provided with pick-up instructions.

The CDC has indicated it is acceptable to use older but never-used N95s, and the retrofitted units will be clinically inspected and thoroughly disinfected before use by clinical staff.

“It’s difficult to describe how much we appreciate the support we have received so far,” Maxwell said.

“It’s imperative the health care professionals on the front lines of this war with the COVID-19 coronavirus have access to personal protective equipment to help keep themselves and our patients safe.”

Individuals interested in volunteering to sew new straps on N95 respirators are encouraged to sign up by visiting tidelandshealth.org or by calling 1-866-TIDELANDS. Volunteers will be provided the necessary supplies and instructions to replace the straps. Once signed up, volunteers will be contacted by the health system with further instructions.

As a strong advocate for social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the health system is asking volunteers to complete the work independently rather than gather in groups.

Volunteers should not drop by or call a Tidelands Health hospital or physician office to pick up respirators and supplies, and the health system is not asking the community to supply homemade surgical masks at this time.

Any businesses able to donate supplies or help with sewing can contact Amy Stevens, Tidelands Health vice president of marketing, at astevens@tidelandshealth.org.