Coronavirus: Business retools to make PPEs for health workers, first responders

A Miamisburg business is producing up to 75,000 face shields a week, helping fill a backlog to protect Ohio health care workers, first responders and others from COVID-19.

Laird Plastics retooled and has been producing the personal protective equipment – assisting to meet what the CDC calls a “tremendous challenge” — for about three weeks.

The business has supplied tens of thousands of face shields to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, hospitals and veteran affairs healthcare centers in southwest Ohio, Manager Mike Ubelhart said.

Safety forces in several local communities have also been supplied by Laird, a “quite valuable” option, Monroe Assistant Fire Chief David Leverage said.

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“One thing you’ve found through this (coronavirus) process is you never know what your run volume is going to be.” Leverage said. “You don’t want to be caught behind the eight ball and not have enough personal protective equipment for your guys. So that’s just another avenue we’re using.”

Aside from the Warren County city, Liberty Twp. in Butler County, Brookville and Englewood in Montgomery County, and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office are all new clients for Laird, Ubelhart said.

“PPE shortages are currently posing a tremendous challenge to the U.S. healthcare system because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the CDC website. “Healthcare facilities are having difficulty accessing the needed PPE and are having to identify alternate ways to provide patient care.”

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Laird became one of those options after the Dallas-based manufacturer’s Baltimore office was contacted by Johns Hopkins University’s renowned medical school as demand for face shields outgrew supply with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ubelhart said.

The Miamisburg site, a distributor of plastic sheets, was asked to get involved “because of the urgency of the need” and its work with fabricating materials, he added.

“And we just kind of went from there with it,” Ubelhart said. “The East Coast was the biggest push out of the gate, but we just started contacting all of the hospitals and found the need was pretty high – plus just watching the news you could see it. So we ramped up production.”

Cincinnati’s VA hospital was its first client, with a shipment of 10,000 units, followed by that city’s Christ and Mercy hospitals, he said.

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The business then sent shields to about eight area nursing homes and more than a dozen municipalities in the region, according to Ubelhart.

Soon, most of Laird’s other 60-plus sites across the country joined in and the company’s production of face shields has been about 10 million so far, he added.

The switch has helped the Miamisburg site avoid layoffs and add workers, Ubelhart said. Instead, 24 of that location’s nearly 30 employees each week are working to produce about 75,000 units, which each take about a minute to fabricate in a manual process, he said.

“Our people have kicked in 100 percent, and we’re going as fast as we can to try and help out the health care industry at this point,” Ubelhart said.

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“Right now we’re building them strictly to order,” he added. “We can’t keep up with the orders that we have in place right now. We’re just playing catch-up right now.”

Monroe ordered 100 units for its fire and police departments, and that supply should last about a month, Leverage said.

The shields are used on calls as policies and procedures dictate “to reduce the exposure” of crews, he said.

“Obviously, calls these days are treated little differently than we have in the past. There’s a heightened sense of awareness with the COVID-19 virus being spread amongst the community,” Leverage added.

The effort of healthcare workers, first responders and those like his employees are appreciated, Ubelhart said, as they expose themselves to the nation's worst outbreak in more than a century.

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“Anybody that’s not shut in and staying at home – people who are essential workers – especially people work at” grocery stores are “putting yourself out there and you’re a little at risk to catch the virus,”he said

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