When you’re a medical student and a pandemic strikes, you want nothing more than to help your community.
“When all this started happening, we got pulled from our clinical duties and told to stay home,” says Annie Dube, who is in her second year at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). “As a medical student, you really want to help. It was quite difficult to just sit at home.”
She had heard about other medical students across the country starting initiatives like PPE (personal protective equipment) drives which asked local businesses to donate supplies.
While on a call with the local community pandemic response team, “they were identifying a lack of PPE for community healthcare providers,” says Dube. “We do have a PPE drive going here in Huntsville, but most of those supplies are being directed towards the hospital, and that’s for a valid reason. But there is a lack of PPE for community healthcare providers” like personal support workers (PSWs), community nurses, and people who work in long-term care homes, all of whom are providing care for a vulnerable population.
Dube reached out to fellow medical student, Ryan Kirkby, and together they launched an initiative to create PPE for local workers. They teamed up with two local high school teachers, Ian McTavish and Thomas Morton, who have expertise in 3D printing and laser cutting.
“The four of us came together and decided we were going to tackle this challenge to make PPE for community healthcare providers,” said Dube.
Their plan came together quickly. They modified a face shield design they found online, adding components and then modifying them further. They considered and then abandoned the idea to 3D print the headpieces in favour of laser cutting for its speed and accessibility. Morton owns a laser cutter and “added his own component to tweak [the design] so it is substantially more cost-effective,” says Dube. “He added hinges on either side which allowed us to get triple the number of headpieces…which really optimized the production.”
They enlisted Staples to supply the plastic visors.
To generate the funds needed for supplies, they launched a GoFundMe campaign on April 2 and it far exceeded their expectations. They met their initial $5,000 goal in less than 24 hours and by the morning of April 5 were closing in on their revised goal of $10,000 with $9,350 raised.
“We’re really quite blown away,” says Kirkby. “A big thank you to the community for being generous. Keep supporting healthcare workers if possible.”
The shields will be donated to long-term care homes, PSWs, community nurses, pharmacies and any other community healthcare providers who need them. And the unexpected community support they received will allow them to also offer face shields to people working in businesses deemed essential like grocery stores, gas stations, the LCBO store and The Beer Store.
“They all need protection too. They are all asked to go to work to provide us with those essential services,” says Dube.
She adds that, although some may already be wearing a mask, “the benefit of the face shield is that it protects that mask. People are being asked to reuse the mask from patient to patient for almost the duration of their shift. The face shield protects that mask so it’s less likely to get contaminated.”
Every donation toward the initiative helps, says Dube. Even $5 allows them to manufacture one more face shield.
For those who want to help in other ways, the team will soon need assistance with sanitizing the shields as well as delivering them.
They are putting about 15 prototypes in the hands of some healthcare workers on Monday and, once those workers provide feedback, the team will make any needed adjustments and then will begin production, hopefully by later this week.
Each shield will be disinfected and packed in a plastic bag before being distributed. Workers will be provided with replacement visors or face shields as needed.
The initiative has been a team effort, says Dube. In addition to their four-member team and the financial support of the community, members of Hoya Robotics volunteered to help prepare materials and Elly Lapp created the initiative’s logo.
The community can help in one of three ways: provide financial support with a donation to the GoFundMe page, volunteer to sanitize and/or deliver the face shields (email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to a volunteer list), and share the initiative via your social media channels or in your online conversations with friends and family to help get word out.
“As long as these are successful and there’s a need, we’ll keep creating them,” says Kirkby.
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