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Mobilized volunteers make thousands of masks and comfort strips to support MultiCare health care workers

Posted on Apr. 24, 2020 ( comments)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) items have been coveted since the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. With the national demand much higher than the current supply, health systems like MultiCare have relied on creative solutions to gather and create PPE. 

A small army of more than 500 community volunteers have created more than 21,000 masks and 37,000 comfort strips that are placed under face shields. This critical donation of PPE, which began in March, as well as the donated time and talent from the community to make them, are keeping our health care providers, patients and entire community safe.   

“The response from our community was incredible,” Executive Director of MultiCare Volunteer Services, Fran Waller, says.

MultiCare now has an established group of volunteers who are sewing masks using a medical-grade blue wrap material. These masks are approved to be worn when providing patient care in hospitals and clinics, as they have a high-filtration rating, allowing very few particles to pass through the fabric. Masks will be used for patients entering clinics and hospitals and for staff at behavioral health facilities. Together, these efforts help to save N95 masks and other PPE for higher risk areas.

Sewing Comfort Strips

Each piece of PPE serves an important purpose. For instance, comfort strips are created for protection, but also to prevent the pain that prolonged use of Controlled Air Purifying Respirators (CAPRs) can cause.

Producing thousands of PPE like this takes coordination and dedication. Volunteer Mardel Tanquist’s production became so intricate, it involved Excel spreadsheets.  

“We have those who supply and deliver, as well as cutters, sewers and people who have made donations.” Mardel says. “My porch has tables for supplies, and baskets for the finished products. Then I developed spreadsheets of comfort strip and mask kit sewers to keep all informed of what MultiCare needs and when new supplies are available. It has been awesome to see so many neighbors who have a desire to help.”   

The masks are sterilized once returned, but the comfort strips require a more labor-intensive process, and that means more volunteers.  

Each 8-inch strip is hung by hand on a clothesline, then the volunteer leaves the room and turns on a UV lamp and “bakes” the strips for 14 minutes. The volunteer then has to flip every single strip and bake the other side. 

There is a team of volunteers doing this time-consuming work daily. Volunteers like Bridget Hubbard who typically assists patients and families at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.  

“I am volunteering because I want to do anything I can to lighten the workload for the people on the front line, even if it’s as small as flipping comfort strips for three hours,” Bridget says. 

Julietta Davidson, a registered nurse who works in infection prevention at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, knows that these “little strips” are critical for staff on the frontlines.

“The 8P COVID unit staff said they love them and wouldn’t know what they would do without them,” Davidson says. “When they ran out, the rough side of the Velcro on the helmets was hurting their foreheads and sticking in their hair. Everyone was very interested to know that our volunteers made them, and they were all smiling and enthusiastic while talking to me about the strips. Sometimes little things are big.”

Speaking to the generosity MultiCare has seen over the past weeks, President and CEO Bill Robertson said, “I would like to acknowledge this critical community partnership and thank the numerous volunteers who have come together and donated time and resources to this effort. Your donations have gone a long way in helping to keep our community safe, and we are so appreciative of your thoughtfulness and care for others.”

If you are interested in sewing masks, please contact MultiCare Volunteer Services at [email protected].  

To learn more about how to support MultiCare during the COVID-19 outbreak, check out Hope Grows Here: an at-home community project supported by the MultiCare Foundations. 

About The Author

Kortney Scroger

Kortney Scroger is a communication specialist for the MultiCare Foundations. She writes stories that connect readers to the impact of giving. You can reach her at [email protected].

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