WAUSAU – While there are many things unknown about COVID-19 one thing is certain, access to effective personal protective equipment is vital for healthcare professionals on the front line. 

Times of uncertainty often provide opportunities for creativity and innovation and Ascension Wisconsin is benefiting from these traits on many levels during the current pandemic.

Face shields manufactured by Create Portage County waiting for delivery to Ascension Wisconsin facilities. Photo courtesy Ascension.

“Our team has been diligently working to sustain our supply of PPE and the investigation of products from non-traditional suppliers has helped us fill some key needs during the management of this pandemic,” said Adam Trafton, vice president and chief resource officer for Ascension Wisconsin with The Resource Group, Ascension’s resource and supply management organization.

Often these opportunities stem from already established relationships and that was the case when Jim Kass, senior vice president of product development, planning and manufacturing for  Port Washington based Allen Edmonds was connected to Trafton by leaders from Ascension  Wisconsin’s Network of Hospital Foundations. 

Kass, with vast experience in product development wondered if there was something his company could do to help fill the gap in PPE supplies he had been hearing about. With normal production scaled back because of Wisconsin’s Safer at Home Order, Allen Edmonds had people and equipment, but needed materials. 

“After consulting with Ascension leaders from infection prevention and other functions to review and provide input, we were able to come up with a mask design that would bolster our supply of PPE,”  Trafton said.

The end result was the creation of what has been dubbed the Innovation Mask, which is being distributed to Ascension Wisconsin facilities statewide. An agreement to provide as many as 25,000 masks a week was just the kind of inventory Trafton was looking for at a time when a change in policy brought universal masking to all facilities across the state. 

Meanwhile in central Wisconsin, Create Portage County operates with a mission of accelerating creativity, connection and collaboration to advance vibrant and welcoming communities. 

Executive Director Greg Wright leads the charge for the organization which has an Idea center equipped with 3D printers to allow residents of Stevens Point and beyond to invest in their creative ideas and expand entrepreneurship. 

“We had done some research and found out there were people and organizations like ours supporting the healthcare industry using 3D printers and we knew we could do something similar,” Wright said.

Create connected with Jason Patterson, associate manager for operations for the Resource Group at Ascension St. Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point who identified a need for face shields for frontline healthcare workers.

After a similar product review to the innovation masks, Create mobilized its 3D army to create more than 3,000 face shields in short order. 

More than half of those went to facilities in Ascension Wisconsin’s north region including Ascension St. Michael’s, Ascension St. Clare’s in Weston, Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital in Merrill, Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander, Ascension Our Lady of Victory Hospital in Stanley and Howard Young Medical Center, part of Ascension in Woodruff. 

Wright says other shields went to poll workers, public health officials, first responders, dentists and assisted living facilities. 

“The project has included grant funding, business support, educational support, and many volunteers,” Wright said. “From elastic pulled from sewing kits to make shields to people who printed their own frames using their personal 3D printers, every part of this process engaged the community.”

The Ascension St. Michael’s Foundation was one of several community donors that helped offset the cost of the 3D project. 

Source: Ascension Wisconsin