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Effort Underway to Manufacture Personal Protective Equipment

3/25/2020 ST. JOHNSBURY — Part of the closed Catamount Arts building on Eastern Avenue may be converted into an emergency sewing factory to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers in the Northeast Kingdom.

The three-story, 10,000 square foot building’s arts and entertainment mission has come to a halt due to the coronavirus crisis.

But a transformation in the Masonic Hall on the building’s third floor will make space for sewing gowns and more amid a shortage during the coronavirus pandemic crisis.

A handful of nurses may be redeployed in the coming days as seamstresses to turn out the protective equipment for local health care workers.

Jody Fried, executive director of Catamount Arts, said on Wednesday that when the decision to shutter the arts center was made, he reached out to Shawn Tester, CEO of Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH) and Michael Costa, CEO of Northern Counties Health Care (NCHC), offering use of the arts center for public health purposes.

“One of the ideas … was to create a facility where we could produce masks, gowns and scrubs and other health care-related items that are necessary to keep our health professionals safe,” said Fried.

Fried reached out to local fashion designer Tara Lynn Scheidet of Sutton for help. Catamount has worked with Scheidet in the past. He asked if she would create patterns for the effort to match what is needed at the hospital.

Scheidet, a graduate of the New York City Fashion Institute of Technology, said a friend and local ER nurse from NVRH, Margi McGandy, dropped off a hospital gown, and Scheidet began working on a pattern she and others could use.

Fried said Craig Taylor, facilities director for Northern Counties Health Care, “is coordinating the actual logistics on the ground in terms of the effort.”

Taylor, reached Wednesday, said the plans are still being developed and more specifics on the operation will be known by Friday.

Fried said, “We are taking the first step to re-purpose the arts center to help with the production of supplies. We are not sure exactly what that means yet, but by the end of the week we are hoping we will have a better idea of how it’s going to work and how the local community can support it.”

“There are a lot of people that really want to help right now,” said Fried.

For Scheidet’s part, she noted in an email Wednesday that she had created a pattern that organizers from Northern Counties Health Care and Catamount Arts picked up, along with some trim supplies to start cutting and sewing surgical gowns for doctors and nurses.

Scheidet was asked if she had any contacts for polypropylene fabric, and she laughed, responding, “I work with all hemp and organic cotton! None of my distributors sell polypropylene.”

They are trying to get their hands on a lot of it – and fast.

She said she no sooner got off the phone with Taylor than a call came from a woman she’d never heard of named Anni Lorenzini, of Waterford, who told Scheidet she once had a company in New York that used polypropylene in its goods, and that she has a lot of it in storage that she is willing to donate.

NVRH Will Take Gowns, Masks

Laural Ruggles, spokeswoman for NVRH, said Wednesday the hospital is hearing from people who want to sew PPE and donate. She said two local groups, the Mighty Maskmakers of the NEK and HOPE are coordinating efforts.

“People are contacting us … this blew up on social media over the weekend, the masks and the gowns,” said Ruggles, “so we are referring people to those two groups.” She said home health workers, nursing homes and other health care agencies and their workers will also need the locally sewn PPE.

Ruggles said, “We’re hoping they get everyone organized, and they have this army of people sewing, they have some distribution sites, they are getting the patterns out … and what we will do is reach out to them and have kind of a back and forth, we will facilitate getting them here and then they will go into our inventory of what we have.”

“They are going to become part of our official inventory,” said Ruggles. “We are looking forward to them.”

Ruggles said, “These are the things that will get us through this, that people want to help, there are a lot of colorful masks and gowns coming our way very soon!”

Caledonian Record, Amy Ash Nixon