Kezia Fitzgerald, co-founder of CareAline, tells how her company responded to a need for isolation gowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, and describes what it will take to set up a domestic supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the future.
The pandemic caused U.S. hospitals and healthcare workers to realize that they were more dependent on an overseas supply of PPE than they had thought. When COVID-19 hit, supplies of critical materials quickly dried up, as hospitals exhausted existing stocks. “They didn’t have the infrastructure in the states anymore to quickly ramp up production for an emergent situation like COVID-19,” Fitzgerald says.
One of the biggest needs that arose during the pandemic was for isolation gowns. That’s when CareAline, a maker of vascular access devices, stepped in. Working with a manufacturer in Massachusetts, it began producing the gowns. It was aided by a grant from the Massachusetts Emergency Response Agency, which provided resources for meeting testing requirements and ramping up production. The company designed the gowns based on input from hospital partners.
A key element of the gowns was their suitability for reuse. One gown can withstand 100 industrial washes, Fitzgerald notes, meaning that much less manufacturing capacity and warehouse space was required to produce and store the item. The manufacturing process for reusable gowns involves 99% less waste and 40% less water consumption than disposable versions.
Fitzgerald sees the need for establishing a strong source of PPE in the U.S., an effort that will require changes in practice at both the private and government levels. The switch to reusable items will help to secure a viable stockpile and better prepare the nation for the next health crisis, she says. At the same time, some foreign sourcing will continue to be required.
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