Back in March, Cottage Health had a problem. Their supply of PAPR face shields was running low.
Short for Powered Air-Purifying Respirators, PAPRs are battery-powered devices that use a blower to pull air through attached filters to clean it before delivering it to the user, offering low breathing resistance with a high level of protection.
The PAPRs used by Cottage have a removable tight-fitting full facepiece attached to the helmet. Currently, Cottage has 49 of the helmets, with 50 more in the mail, although Cottage has been told they are “in the mail” for the past six weeks.
Because of the filter-system and tight seal of the face shield, PAPRs are the highest level of protection for providers doing high-intensity, high-risk procedures with COVID patients, according to Lisa Moore, Vice President of Clinical Services at Cottage Health.
However the front face shield is disposable, and is replaced after each use, and by early April, Cottage was down to eight.
Thankfully, UCSB Chemical Engineering professor, former Emergency Department physician at Cottage and entrepreneur Dr. Eric McFarland stepped in.
Linking up with Clinical Nurse Coordinator Jim Ouellette to create what Ms. Moore called “the dream team”, the two corralled a local group of engineers, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs to manufacture hundreds of the reusable face shields, creating a Santa Barbara collaboration for the ages.
“They have been on fire partnering with the local people who have the products that can contribute to solving this problem,” said Ms. Moore. “They found the plastics manufacturers in town, they found the guy who makes stretchy stuff down in Carpinteria, they found 3D printing people. It’s so exciting.”
Finding plastic sheets for the broad face protection is relatively easy to come by, but shields that have rubber sealants that are fitted and prevent any potentially contaminated air from leaking in are difficult to get.
Mr. Oullette and Dr. McFarland had to come up with a way to produce the rubber seal under the chin, the hardest part of the puzzle to solve
“Getting that part underneath the chin to be stretchy and fit right next to your face and not breakaway, stretch out away from your chin, or seperate from the clear plastic part is tricky, getting the right adhesive,” said Ms. Moore.
Thankfully, they found Matt Silva of Ventura’s Implantech and local engineer and entrepreneur, Ray Karam, who connected them with other manufacturers and entrepreneurs in the area.
“Both those guys brought to market the replaceable face shields,” said Ms. Moore. “That is actually a lifesaver because the day that we got our first delivery of the locally produced shields we were down to a one day supply. The next day we weren’t going to be able to use the devices.”
What makes the PAPRs and the replaceable face shields so vital is their use during patient intubation.
“When you’re putting a patient on a ventilator you have to intubate them,” said Ms. Moore. “When you do that there’s often some coughing and saliva that gets sprayed, and that’s the most dangerous part of the procedure.”
The collaboration came just in the nick of time, said Ms. Moore.
“We started working with Eric McFarland on March 23 and here we are. It’s April 17 and we’ve had a solution in-house for a week!” said Ms. Moore.
The group has also come up with other alternatives for Personal Protective Equipment, like an attachable filter for full-face scuba masks to use in place of the helmets in case staff needs more than the ones available.
Dr. McFarland was also asked to solve the problem of reprocessing Cottage’s N95 masks.
“We’re currently reprocessing N96 masks that are not damaged and we’re doing it with a super safe two-step process that the research shows is safe and leaves the masks very effective,” said Ms. Moore. “We’ve got over 600 of those that we’ve successfully reprocessed.”
To date, Cottage has received 1059 of the locally produced PAPR shields, said Ms. Moore.
The next task for the Dr. McFarland and company? Isolation gowns and locally produced PAPR hoods.
“As long as we can’t use conventional supply chain vendors we will keep going with this innovation model and I’m just thrilled about it,” said Ms. Moore. “Those guys have definitely done heroic work here together.”