Local hospice organization 3D-printing its own face shields

Published: Apr. 23, 2020 at 8:00 AM EDT
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There's a shortage of personal protective equipment nationwide, but now a local health organization is able to make their own gear to distribute to staff.

Rather than purchasing PPE, Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice is relying on 3D printers to pump out reusable face shields.

The Visiting Nurse Association serves 23 communities in Washington and Orange counties. In order to safely interact with clients of all ages, the staff needed to get ahold of a whole lot more masks than they had on hand.

The organization's IT manager, Jon Irwin, turned his personal hobby into an essential service.

"I just kind of shouted out, 'Hey, I can do this. I can create face shields for the company,'" Irwin said.

When the virus took hold in the state, the organization formed an internal task force to prepare and coordinate proper protocols and screening procedures that would protect staff and patients. Company leaders soon realized they had a problem.

"We had 17 disposable face shields ready for more than 100 visiting nursing staff," said Irwin.

And Irwin offered a solution. Over the past three years, he has purchased three 3D printers to make and sell small knickknacks, like pencil holders, on Etsy. After doing some research, he realized the manufacturers of his models, PRUSA, developed a reusable face shield design approved and recommended by the National Institutes of Health.

"I put my Etsy business on hold and just started outputting these as fast as I could," said Irwin.

The face shields proved perfect for the job. Each machine prints two face shields every three hours, but assembly takes less than a minute.

The effort takes a team. Mark Patterson, a personal care assistant, has put together about 300 finished products so far made of three inexpensive parts: the plastic printed headpiece, a waistband fabric strap and a transparent binder separator.

Kelly Fridinger, a quality nurse educator, says the design is valuable because it's washable.

"Some of the other face shields that are going around have a film insert around the top that it's hard to clean that. So for this one, everything can be wiped down with a Clorox wipe, alcohol wipe, sanitizer wipe and be completely disinfected between patients," she said.

They say it's critical for clinicians who work with clients in their homes every day. The shield adds an additional protective layer to the surgical mask.

"It's really great to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Even though I'm not on the front lines, I can still do something to fight this virus," said Irwin.

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