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Locals step up to help hospital with face masks

Northern Montana Health Care seeking masks, gowns, booties and more


Last updated 3/25/2020 at 12:07pm

People are helping out a local health care organization in a combined time of greater need and shorter supplies.

Northern Montana Hospital sent out a notice on its Facebook page Friday that it was in need of more face masks for patients and the health care providers and community members stepped up to help out.

“What started it is basically, I was reading the CDC recommendations about what to do when we run out of face masks,” Northern Montana Health Care OBGYN Director Dr. Margo Muniz said. “... we are just trying to keep on top of our game and keep our ship tight, and patch any problems or holes.”

She said a nationwide shortage of face masks is occurring due to one of the main N95 manufactures plant being taken out during a tornado March 2 in Tennessee, coming right as hospitals and health care providers are dealing with the novel coronavirus 2019 pandemic.

N95 refers to what percentage of particles are filtered by the mask.

Production is not going well and all hospitals are running short on supplies, she said, and the hospital is trying to ration, reuse and resterilize supplies as much as they can, but eventually will be out of face masks.

“Once we have shortages, at least we’ll have some cloth masks to use,” Muniz said. “All masks are designed basically for single use, and there are three different patterns that all have different uses, but the one pattern will be able to fit over the masks that are being reused and give added protection.”

Monday, Northern Montana Health Care put out a call to everyone in the area to help if they can, saying it is reaching out to “request other supplies that may be in storage, unused or possibly even outdated (within reason) throughout our community. Construction companies, tradesman, veterinarians, farmers/ranchers are all possible sources for this type of equipment. Without putting yourself, company or workers at risk, you are asked to donate any unused masks (preferably N95 or P95), gowns, suits, booties, hoods, gloves, safety glasses/goggles to NMHC.”

The items, and the fabric masks, can be delivered to a designated and labeled bin at the Second Floor Emergency Department entrance of Northern Montana Hospital. Northern Montana Health Care asks that people place their name, address, phone number on donated items, as any that are not used may be returned.

People with questions can contact Laura Thornton at 262-1557 or thorlaum@nmhcare.org .

Muniz said face masks made locally can work for what Northern Montana Health Care needs.

Patterns and instructions may be found under “Documents” on the Hospital webpage at http://www.NMHcare.org .

And people already are helping. Northern Montana Health Care Public Relations officer Julianne LaSmith said Monday the clinic received 300 face masks over the weekend from Gildford Colony.

Shannon Heggem of Havre created the Facebook page Help Needed To Sew Masks For Northern Montana Hospital group.

“As an administrator of this group my goal is to keep the group informed to the specific needs of specifications as indicated by the hospital to make sure that these efforts are effectively focused,”she said.  

This is turning into a full-time job, she added.

“I’m happy to be able to contribute,” Heggem said. “I think we are all witnessing something happening around us right now that’s just terrifying and unprecedented, and I think everyone just feels so helpless. This kind of gives people a focus and a purpose right now when we’re still filled with fear, so I’m happy to be able to contribute even though I can’t operate a sewing machine.”

Nancy Erickson of Havre is part of that group and has contributed in making face masks for NMHC.

“I decided that I wanted to make these masks as a way to help our community and a way of giving back,” she said. “I have always loved to sew and had enough fabrics and supplies stashed away that I didn’t have to go out and buy anything.”

She said Tuesday she has completed two and others just need the ties sewed on them to be complete.

She is using one basic pattern that she downloaded from the internet, she added, some of them will have a pocket in back to insert a filter and the others will not.

“This is important to me because most of our health care workers don’t have a choice about whether or not they can work from home,” Erickson said. “They have always been there when we need them and now it’s time for us to be there for them by helping to keep them safe.”

Muniz said if people use the right cloth and layer it the right way, it can be close to a N95.

She added that the best fabrics to use would be two layers on each side with a total of four layers of thickly woven cotton.

For example, she said, people can use a thick high-quality T-shirt, pillowcases or diapers. 

Heggem said Walmart has offered to donate materials and supplies for the cause.

Montana State University Extension Agent Jasmine Carabajal said free fabric is available at the Hill County Extension Office in the Hill County Courthouse, but the courthouse is locked and people have to call to gain admission.

People who are interested in getting some fabric can call her at 400-2335 or email her at jasmine.carbajal@montana.edu .

J.M. Donoven Designs in Fine Jewelry owner Janine Donoven offered services from her store to laser cut the material to make the face masks.

“The process involves my computerized laser equipment and basically, I downloaded and configured the templates that were provided by the hospital’s Facebook page, got them sized and ready to go, and then I spent the next about three to four hours working on fine-tuning the settings on the laser, so that I could cut the material without starting it on fire,” she said. 

She said she thinks in times like, people are trying to figure out what they can do — she is not a seamstress, but wanted to do her part.

“I just thought, if I can make this happen, maybe I can help those seamstresses do their job quicker,” she added.

When she is caught up on preparing the materials she is making for the masks, she said, and will let LaSmith know and will coordinate a time to receive more materials from people who would like to help.

For more information and to know the logistics on what the NMHC is asking for in terms of masks, can visit the Facebook page Help Needed To Sew Masks For Northern Montana Hospital group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/212094446563065/?epa=SEARCH_BOX .


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