By Katy Savage
Volunteers from the Rutland MINT Makerspace are committing to making 10,000 face shields for the Rutland Regional Medical Center as the hospital combats the coronavirus.
MINT MakerSpace spokesperson Karen McCalla said MINT members Gabe Oberkirch and Tom Lichtman created the design for the shields and are cutting them with a laser. Oberkirch optimized a file he found online and made improvements to it.
As of Monday, April 6, 411 face shields had been donated to the hospital.
“It’s a really efficient design,” McCalla said.
The MINT worked on different prototypes with hospital staff members.
“They were very anxious,” McCalla said. “They are trying to build up their back stock.”
Traci Moore, the director of the Rutland Health Foundation, said the hospital has enough supplies now to keep hospital personnel safe, but she’s preparing for a need if there is a surge.
“Not knowing the duration of the COVID-19 response—it’s really helpful to continue to build a strong inventory of face masks,” she said.
Moore said the masks had to be a certain length, stretching from the forehead to below the chin. The face shields made by MINT are adjustable in seven sizes to accommodate everybody.
But, McCalla, who calls herself an “evangelist” for the MINT, said one of the issues has been getting access to plastic material. “If this was a normal world, there’s a million places online we could order it,” she said.
McCalla put out a call with city officials to request plastic from anybody in town who had it about a week ago.
Fabian Earth Moving owner John Center in West Rutland happened to have a roll of plastic in his attic.
Center said the plastic had been in his attic at the Fabian garage for 15 years. Center used to work in the MINT building as a plant manager for a former company that made plastic food containers. When the plastic company closed about 15 years ago, he and other employees were asked to dispose of the plastic.
“I don’t know why I even took it,” Center said. “It’s pretty interesting that the plastic went full circle. It started there (in the MINT building) and it ended up back there.”
The plastic Fabian donated was thinner than the ideal plastic the hospital needs, but it still meets requirements. The roll from Fabian is enough to make about 1,000 shields. The MINT volunteers are hoping for another shipment of plastic to arrive Thursday, April 9, to start production on the remaining 9,000 shields for the hospital.
Center said he’s been inspired by the people who have been willing to help. “You have to be creative in our community,” Center said. “Not a lot of people have an awful lot but they’ll give you everything they’ve got to help a neighbor out.”
When the hospital requested 10,000 shields from the MINT, “they didn’t even blink,” Moore said.
At the MINT, manufacturers can produce one shield every minute, if they have enough material.
Moore said there’s been an overwhelming outpour of support for the hospital.
“So many individuals and businesses have stepped up in a variety of ways to make sure Rutland Regional has what we need,” Moore said.
The hospital has received donations of N-95 face masks, exam gloves, and fabric mask donations to wear in non-patient care areas of the hospitals.
Meanwhile, the MINT is sharing the face shied design with anyone who needs it, including all the makerspaces in Vermont. A makerspace in Connecticut is currently using the design.