Coronavirus in Tennessee: Blount Memorial staff shift to ‘new job’ making gowns, masks


MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Not all employees are essential or have seen a spike in workload at Blount Memorial Hospital, but that doesn’t mean they are sitting out during this coronavirus pandemic.

Various departments throughout the system are now making personal protective equipment to support their colleagues on the front line of this COVID-19 outbreak should the need arise for emergency disposable gowns and N95 masks at the hospital.

“These are two of the items that we felt were most critical for our organization, as they’re both items that the national supply chain is struggling to support among COVID-19 outbreaks in most communities,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harold Naramore says. “Our employees have really stepped up and approached their ‘new jobs’ with excitement and support for helping our organization prepare for an outbreak.

One of the disposable gowns made by the staff at Blount Memorial Hospital.

“In three days, our employees who are making disposable gowns have produced 3,814 total gowns.”

The internal creation of alternate disposable gowns began on March 27, and the production of N95 masks, which have passed a respirator fit test, began on April 1.

N95 masks use materials that already exist in health care environments, and hospital employees are helping to prepare the sewing kits so that they can be sewn to meet very specific guidelines. Each N95 can take up to one hour to make and are specially designed to protect against droplet exposures.

As of Thursday, April 2, there were 850 N95 masks in production.

“The intricacy and detail required to create a usable N95 mask are different than most other cotton masks that are being sewn by so many in our community,” Naramore said.

The measure came about as hospital leaders worked through steps of the organization’s COVID-19 plan and modeled potential impacts the virus could bring to Blount County.

“We made the decision early on – back in February – that we needed to investigate all alternate options of PPE, as we know that protecting your people – your doctors, your nurses, your clinical staff and your entire workforce – in a health care setting is crucial to ensuring your facility’s ability to care for its community, even in the worst of situations,” Naramore said. “We brought every idea to the table, and we’ve vetted just about everything that we can think of – and that other hospitals have thought of.”

“We’re going to continue to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario because that’s what is in our community’s best interest,” Blount Memorial CEO Don Heinemann says. “We hope, that in six months, we can look back and say we made too many alternate disposable gowns and that we made N95 masks but never had to use them.

“That would be a really good day for our hospital and our community.”

Blount Memorial staff making emergency disposable gowns.

Click here for more coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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