Faced with the prospect of running out of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), a West Kootenay doctor came up with a plan to make his own.
Dr. Michael Vance is a General Practitioner at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital (KBRH) and Kootenay Lake Hospital (KLH) and has teamed up with West Kootenay engineers and their firms to help with a global shortage of PPE.
“We still have enough PPE right now in the Kootenays,” Dr. Vance said in an email to the Trail Times. “But the first wave of admitted COVID patients has not hit the hospital yet.
“Watching what has happened in Europe and now in the US, it’s clear that there will be a shortage of PPE in the coming months, so I’m trying to prepare before there’s a shortage.”
The World Health Organization sounded the alarm in early February, as the coronavirus swept through China, that the world would face a desperate shortage of PPE.
Dr. Vance has partnered with engineer Lee Wasilenko from Nelson and Jason Taylor from Selkirk College and Trail’s MIDAS lab, and are working to meet that potential need by augmenting the supply of PPE and masks, in particular.
The team uses 3D printers and laser cutters and plastics to make the plastic shields, which cover the whole face.
“We are going to be able to make enough for staff to reuse them, but not likely to make them disposable, single use, which would be the ideal scenario.”
Dr. Vance says that so far the team has received an amazing amount of support, and is thankful for all the partners that have assisted in this critical effort.
“Austin Engineering in Trail has done an amazing job speeding things up and coordinating efforts. There are also a number of community printers and laser cutters helping out now, from the school district, to Hall printing, to KAST and Selkirk college, and also individual people with their own printers. There are more every day volunteering and offering to print.”
Indeed, community involvement and coordination has been key in the early success of the project, as healthcare workers prepare for an unprecedented crisis.
“Murray McConnachie lined up supplies from the school board,” said Mary Austin, from Austin Innovation (AI). “Sabine Bruckmeier and Liz Stephens gave us all the initial supplies from the Rossland and Trail churches and coordinated with all the other churches to get the plastic sheeting we’ve been using as we scale up.”
Trail city councillor Colleen Jones and husband Doug helped out on the make-shift assembly line that AI set up at their office in downtown Trail. MIDAS’ Taylor and Ingrid Hope of Halls Printing shared the supplies needed for the head wraps and have been working diligently in partnership with AI to continuously improve the design and employ their laser cutters.
“Mike (Dr. Vance) is gathering feedback from the KBRH and KLH teams so we can ensure best fit and any other adjustments they ask for,” added Austin. “Provincial coordinators also reached out this afternoon so we could coordinate, share design and manufacturing processes, and share ideas for scale up and supply chain management.”
Already PPE use has been curtailed by Interior Health in preparation for the first wave of the COVID outbreak, so this community-based effort could be ground breaking and serve as a model for others.
As of Wednesday, there were 46 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in Interior Health, and a total of 659 cases in B.C., including Vancouver Coastal (339), Fraser Health (218), Island Health (47), and Northern Health (9).
Since COVID-19 hit British Columbia, 14 people have died, while 64 are currently in hospital. Of those, 26 are in intensive care. A total of 183 have recovered so far.
Although, there was one reported case in Castlegar, there has been no confirmation from KBRH or the B.C. provincial health officer of coronavirus in the West Kootenay, as of press time Thursday.
Ultimately, it is only a matter of time.
The team’s efforts are not without a cost and residents can help themselves and the community by donating to their campaign online. Simply visit ca.gofundme.com, and search Face Shields for the Kootenay COVID Frontline.
Donations will go towards covering materials and also any excess will fund more PPE from wherever it can be found or purchased.
If there are any community members with PPE they would like to offer, contact Lee Wasilenko through the gofundme page – N95 masks and gowns are most critical at this stage.