Outside Moab Regional Hospital’s entrance on March 23, a group of women arrives bearing large baskets of hand-sewn medical gowns and masks with bright patterns. Hospital officials and doctors greet them, standing six feet apart but smiling.
A self-starting group of local quilters and seamstresses heard the call from doctors and nurses warning about an impending lack of essential protective gear and jumped into action. On March 23, they made their first delivery of 150 facemasks and 67 surgical gowns.
The impact of their creativity went much further than that delivery, though. An instructional pattern the group created on the fly quickly spread online, shared again and again through social media. A tutorial video with Moab local Crystal Day has been viewed over 18,000 times.
“I’ve had people from Pennsylvania, southern Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, everywhere calling, how can they help and what can they do?” said Canyonland Quilts owner Chyrrel Meyer.
Meeting Hospital Needs
“Myself and my team have been working tirelessly to ensure that our hospital has enough supplies to take care of our patients and anyone affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dawn Reynolds, director of materials management at Moab Regional Hospital.
Reynolds explained that the hospital is supposed to be guaranteed a certain amount of personal protection equipment (PPE) like gloves, masks and gowns from their suppliers, global shortages have meant delivery of those items have been pushed back months.
“We have mask counts in the thousands but the idea of masks in healthcare are that they are a single-use item,” said Jen Sadoff, Moab Regional Hospital CEO.
Sadoff said that when shipments of masks from China was interrupted, Moab Regional Hospital staff quickly realized that their current stock was going to have to last a long time. At first, the restock was scheduled for April...then pushed back to May...and now they will not get a shipment of masks for medical professionals until August at the earliest.
“When you consider the lab techs and radiology techs and nurses and physicians and all these different people will have an encounter with a single patient,and the patient themselves needs a mask —it was really alarming how quickly we could go through those.” MRH staff is limited to one mask per week due to rationing.
“We really wanted to be proactive about making sure that we would have some form of protection, even if it wasn't FDA-approved protection,” said Sadoff.
While Reynolds was running the hospital’s numbers, she received a call from her friend and Moab local Tammy Norman.
Norman had shuttered her business, Legends Barbershop, due to the pandemic and wanted to know how she could help.
Together the two reached out to the local quilting community, quickly developing patterns for masks both for patients and for medical professionals.
Sadoff admires the pattern and how much it will help conserve dwindling hospital supplies.
“The community support has been one of the most silver of linings to this whole situation because it really does let us know that we're not in this alone,” she said.
Meyer urges experienced sewers to reach out and contribute.
The pattern for the mask for medical professionals is a complicated one, but Meyer reports that so many people have offered to help that they’re finding ways to contribute.
“People that didn't have sewing machines but wanted to help are helping cut” the fabric, she said.
The group is working with materials donated by WabiSabi and large bedsheets from hotels in the area including the Hoodoo and the Marriott.
“One lady in our area was working hard and probably did 20 gowns before her serger fried up on her,” said Meyer. The group is looking to connect with a local sewing machine repair person to keep all the machines humming.
In a Facebook post, MRH carefully notes “no matter how carefully designed and produced, no homemade mask has yet been shown to be as effective as a medical grade mask and thus is not considered FDA approved PPE. For that reason, our providers will only use homemade masks as a last resort, once we run out of current FDA approved PPE.”
The hospital is currently looking for donations from the community of any N95-type masks, which are recommended by the CDC to protect healthcare workers against coronavirus.
Not only is the project helping the area’s first responders and medical professionals, Meyer said it’s healthy for the men and woman pitching in as well.
“We have no control of what's going on and where the virus is spreading and what it's doing,” she said, “but we can pull out an old sewing machine that we haven’t used for 20 years, or sit down and make something that can be used.”
Meyer points out that similar efforts during World War II helped organize the country and promote self-reliance and community togetherness.
MRH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dylan Cole echoed that notes in a statement, applauding the project as “a demonstration of the ingenuity, dedication, and collaborative spirit of Americans, showing how we can pull together for a common purpose at a time of need. Rosie the Riveter is back!”
Still, Dr. Cole noted that medical professionals also needed industrial manufacturers to join the effort.
“We appeal to industry to step up production NOW, in the way our community has done with hand-sewn masks,” he wrote.
Next up for the quilters? Patterns for surgical gowns and boot covers – the next items that may run out.
This article was completed with reporting from Molly Marcello at KZMU News.