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Community steps up to supply PPE to Ascension Via Christi caregivers

David Alexander, president of the Via Christi Foundation, serves in a highly visible role, while Emily Drosselmeyer, a critical products manager for Ascension Via Christi's Kansas hospitals, works mostly behind the scenes.
Working together, they are playing a key role in acquiring the personal protection equipment that is essential to the safety of frontline caregivers, but in scarce supply due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-March, Alexander and his team began fielding calls from local businesses and individuals wanting to help, while Drosselmeyer worked with the hospitals' clinical teams, which provided specifications for hospital-quality face masks and face shields.

Within a week, those efforts led to the development of locally manufactured prototypes that Carla Yost, chief nursing and quality officer, and Karen Bally, director of Infection Control, took on March 26 to the intensive care units at Ascension Via St. Francis to get input from physicians and nurses.

"I think I am going to cry," Terri Ramsey, a registered nurse in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, told Yost and Bally upon learning that once given the thumbs up, thousands of the locally produced face masks and shields could soon supplement the hospitals' PPE inventory. "I could give you a hug."

Ipeco, a Wichita aircraft executive cabin seating firm, will be making the face masks using two-ply spun polypropylene that the hospital typically discards once the sterile instrument trays it covers have been unwrapped. Ipeco has agreed to produce at cost 250 or more face masks per day, helping keep caregivers at Ascension Via Christi safe and provide work for as many Ipeco employees as possible. 

“I can’t express in words how grateful our team is to be able to participate in this community effort and how very proud we are of our employees stepping up to help with this critical need,” says Dwight Boyce, quality manager for Ipeco, which delivered its first batch of masks to St. Francis four days later. “It is a wonderful feeling knowing we are helping the medical professionals on the front line." 

Production of the plastic face shields is being coordinated by Teddy Wisely, a Wichita Police Department sergeant who has assembled a group of area labs that collectively have nearly five dozen 3-D printers. That group includes Wichita State University's Innovation Lab and Go Create, Groover Labs, McConnell Air Force Base's XPS Innovation Lab, Pittsburg State University and Gregory, a custom sign and graphics company in Hutchinson, as well as individuals.

"Our original goal was to create and donate 1,000 high quality face shields for first responders and medical staff, but after working with staff we learned that would barely scratch the surface," says Wisely. The goal is now 7,000 and he is hoping to double the number of printers, which would allow the group to produce 200 - 300 face shields per day.

The majority of the face shields will go to Ascension Via Christi, Wisely says, but not all. The Via Christi Foundation is helping cover most of the material costs for the face shields, while Wisely is using crowdsourcing to cover the balance and purchase additional printers, which will be donated to area high schools once the need has passed.

On Monday, March 30, Wisely delivered approximately 150 face shields to Ascension Via Christi, where staff volunteers will assemble them for distribution.

"Our community is always so quick to step up to help, so I am not surprised by the support," says Alexander, who continues to receive daily calls from other businesses and individuals wanting to donate equipment, supplies and dollars to support the hospitals and caregivers as they prepare for what is expected to be a surge of COVID-19 patients. "What amazes me is how quickly this has gone from concept to supplies ready for use by our caregivers."

Meanwhile, Drosselmeyer and the other critical products managers at The Resource Group, an Ascension subsidiary, continue their efforts to source PPE and other critically needed hospital supplies and equipment through regional, national and international suppliers.

"Plus we continue to receive donations from other area businesses, schools and agencies," Drosselmeyer says. "That's all helping ensure that we have the supplies we need today and what we anticipate we will need in the weeks to come."

Want to make a donation or learn more about what you can do to help? Contact David Alexander at the Via Christi Foundation by calling 316-281-5157.

About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.