The parent company of Maine Medical Center is exploring whether the state’s manufacturing and construction industries can help fashion and supply the masks, face shields, gloves and protection equipment needed to handle the growing wave of coronavirus testing and treatment expected in the state’s hospitals.
MaineHealth reached out over the weekend to the state’s industrial sector, amid a pending national shortage of protective and testing equipment. The move is part of a national trend, as states across the country suffer from a shortage of needed equipment and supplies to fight the viral outbreak.
MaineHealth is the state’s largest health care organization with a system that includes nine community hospitals.
The appeal in Maine mirrors requests across the country from health care providers who are running low on equipment to handle the surge of COVID-19 cases, or fear they will soon. Some have pleaded with President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act, which gives the government sweeping power to ramp up manufacturing capacity. But Trump so far has not done so, voicing a preference for voluntary action.
On Monday, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, provided an update on Maine’s urgent requests for additional personal protective equipment and testing supplies.
Shah said the state will be sending out almost 22,000 pieces of equipment Monday to health care facilities, including 2,500 N95 masks and almost 6,000 gloves. But he said “the amount of (personal protective equipment) we need does not match what we are receiving” from the federal government.
Lisa Martin, executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Maine, said she was on a conference call Sunday with MaineHealth and the Associated General Contractors of Maine, during which the medical provider outlined the equipment it’s looking for from the construction industry and the 400 manufacturing and related firms that make up her organization.
That list includes masks, both the ear-loop procedure masks and high-filtration masks rated by the government as N95; infrared thermometers; respirators; face shields, which possibly could be made from marine-grade vinyl film; nitrile gloves; hand sanitizer; paper or gauze boot and shoe covers; germicidal disposable wipes and disposable gowns.
Martin said many Maine companies are stepping up after the call.
Freeport-based outdoor retailer L.L. Bean, which has industrial sewing capacity for making boots and other products, has responded about the potential to sew masks and shoe covers, she said. Saunders Electronics of South Portland, which has a global customer base in military, medical and industrial controls, has certifications to help make ventilators and infrared thermometers.
Maine Craft Distilling in Portland has 300 gallons of ethanol and can make hand sanitizer, Martin said. STARC Systems in Brunswick can make its medical isolation containment rooms available.
Form Tech Tool & Mold in Biddeford does plastic and silicone injection molding and could make molds for face shields.
Kevin Kaserman, Form Tech’s chief operating officer, said he was returning from Massachusetts on Monday from a company that uses his molds for medical testing.
“We’re down there making sure they’re ready,” he said.
If needed, Kaserman said, Form Tech and its six workers have the capacity to build and repair molds for medical equipment and run machines 24/7 if needed.
“We wanted to put our name out there if we can help,” he said, “but right now we’re in standby.”
With much of the country transitioned to a service economy, Martin said many people don’t realize the continuing and important role of manufacturing in Maine. It’s a point she frequently makes when she speaks to students and business groups.
“This past weekend has been so crazy,” she said, “with people coming together to work on this. It made me realize how true those words are.”
Some of the equipment, such as face shields and respirators, may already be available in the construction industry.
On its Facebook page, the Associated General Contractors of Maine asked its members to donate any of the items on the list.
It posted this message: “Tonight we are learning that the first responders and healthcare workers in our state need personal protection equipment and some engineering solutions to ensure their equipment can operate as intended.”
The needs also include ventilators, which are expected to be in short supply, along with the parts to maintain them.
The post concluded: “Tomorrow we are working to connect critical partners to the possibility our state could manufacture some of the items needed now. We need good ideas, and I know so many of you have created solutions to needs in your markets, built incredible industrial facilities. We need those ideas. Help the front line workers, and let’s win this battle.”