Caption: GE Research teamed up with NYSID and the Center for Disability Services in Albany to supply 400 face shields for hospital workers at Albany Medical Center.
While many of us have been holed up in our homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, our direct contact with family, friends and neighbors has been limited. But as this story will show, it bears a reminder to ask - as the classic song on Sesame Street does – who are the people in your neighborhood?
Steve Duclos, Chief Scientist for Additive Manufacturing at GE Research, had been consulting with a neighbor’s daughter, Katrina LaBate, a hospitalist at St. Peter’s Hospital on a question about ventilators. It was through this initial conversation that the need for face shields came up. With recent efforts by GE’s Additive business to make face shields using 3D printing, Steve thought the Lab might be able to help.
An additive team at GE Research, led by Tom Adcock and Russ Dennison, got to work 3D printing some face shields to support local hospital workers in the Capital Region. With great support from their colleagues Will Navokosky, Chris Klapper and John Deaton, they had what they thought was a good design but wanted a second opinion from Steve’s neighbor to see if it would meet the needs of healthcare workers.
With GE’s vast connections in healthcare, Steve, Tom and Russ could have called any number of medical professionals for an opinion. But sometimes, it’s easier and faster to talk with the people you know and trust firsthand on the front lines.
Katrina explained that the two key factors with face shields for healthcare workers are for them to be comfortable and easy to disinfect. She alone saw 30-40 patients a day, thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting her face shield each time between patients. That’s a lot of cleaning.
One issue she had with the original face shield design was that the holes in the plastic used to connect it to the 3D printed headband might be harder to clean and could become contaminated. She recommended a new design that did not have any holes, where a simple foam band for the forehead is connected to the plastic with an adhesive and an elastic headband attached with staples. Sometimes simplicity is the best solution!
The team updated the face shield design based on Katrina’s feedback. All that they needed now were supplies for three essential components – the plastic material, an elastic band to connect to it, and the foam headband for comfort. However, getting these supplies was easier said than done.
Because of the extraordinary demand for PPE resources like face shields, plastic materials were in short supply and on back order for nearly a month. But fortunately for GE Research, a “light bulb” - so to speak - went off with one of our principal engineers, Nancy Stoffel, who has been instrumental during the pandemic in collecting PPE resources for local health care workers in need.
In her day job as an engineer, she works on advanced electronics and sensing technologies that often involve the use of plastic materials and substrates. When she learned of the additive team’s effort, she quickly realized that the Electronics Lab had ample supplies of rolled plastic just sitting in storage. The plastic had previously been used in past research for organic light emitting diodes (OLED) lighting. Nancy also knew her Lab had a special machine and expert technicians who would be more than willing to help cut the plastics into just the right size for shields.
Joining the additive team were Nancy’s colleagues, Cheri Bromirski, who figured out how to cut the materials using the tools we had; and John Morrison and Jon Klopman, who helped Cheri adapt the cutting tool from its original purpose to this one. George Shaw, Josh Lutt and Andy Mickel, from GE Research’s Fabrication Shop, also contributed their tool making skills as well.
Caption: Cheri Bromirski, at the special cutting machine, re-programmed it to make the precise cuts of plastic needed to form face shields.
Together, the combined additive and electronics team worked together to assemble the face shield kits. But one last piece was missing. Who should assemble the shields?
During conversations with local hospitals to assess face shield needs, it turned out that Katrina’s hospital, St. Peters, had what they needed. Albany Medical Center said they needed ~400 face shields for their staff and suggested the GE Research team coordinate with an organization they often work with, New York State Industries for the Disabled, Inc. (NYSID).
NYSID is a not-for-profit organization that advances employment and other opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Through its statewide membership, the organization provides a wide array of products and services, including emergency supplies like sanitizers, cleaning supplies, gloves and other PPE. It is also providing critical enhanced cleaning and sanitizing services to state and local government customers that must remain open during this health emergency. NYSID teamed up with the Center for Disability Services in Albany to assemble the shields.
Caption: Pictured from left-to-right: Gregory J. Sorrentino, President/Chief Executive Officer, Center for Disability Services in Albany, Maureen O’Brien, president and CEO, NYSID and Dr. Dennis McKenna, President and CEO, Albany Medical Center.
“I couldn’t be prouder of how workers with disabilities are safeguarding our communities right now,” said Maureen O’Brien, president and CEO. “NYSID’s membership of provider agencies and partner organizations has put thousands of individuals with disabilities to work for over 45 years. During this COVID-19 crisis, these reliable workers are stepping up.”
Tom, Nancy, Steve and the entire team already have shipped 400 face shield kits to NYSID to assemble for Albany Med. And another 175 kits are being prepared to send to NYSID to make sure they have adequate resources to protect their own workers.
“Whether it’s neighbor, a research colleague, or community connections between organizations, it’s relationships and teams that can make a world of difference in the problems we’re trying to solve,” says Steve. “It’s a powerful reminder not to let this pandemic isolate us. Rather, let it bring us together in more powerful ways to help us all rise to the challenge.”