HUDSON — Local manufacturers, engineers and community business leaders are stepping up to ensure employees of Columbia Memorial Health in Hudson are covered — literally.

Purpose Co-working and Makerspace Cooperative in Philmont converted its space overnight to fabricate face shields using 3D printers to meet the growing demand for personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Columbia Memorial Health spokesman William Van Slyke said the shields are used by clinical staff in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and suspected cases.

“There are PPE shortages, including shields, that must be constantly managed to ensure we have what our team needs,” Van Slyke said. “We are holding our own and keeping staff safe thanks to these donations and other sources, but each day is a new challenge.”

Purpose member Brendan Gaesser, a volunteer for the Medical Reserve Corps for Greene County and an assistant professor of psychology at UAlbany, has been coordinating the group’s activities and communicating with CMH.

Part of the reason the shields, which cover face masks, are so important is that while administering the COVID-19 test, a swab is inserted deep into the nose, which sometimes results in coughs that land on health care workers, Gaesser said.

The group intends to make as many shields as needed for CMH, and then reassess after the need is met.

Local business owner and fundraising organizer Liam Singer offered to use his wide network of contacts to connect makers and develop assembly protocol. Singer and his wife own Hi-Lo and the Avalon Lounge in Catskill. “I think anyone who’s paying attention to how these collectives have been moving has been surprised as to who and what is useful in this situation,” Singer said. “You maybe don’t know until you’re faced with a crisis what resources are in your immediate area that you can reroute or take advantage of.”

CMH projected a critical shortfall of 1,000 face shields in the next three weeks, according to the group’s fundraising page.

The hospital approved the design of the face shield, which is based on the Prusa RC3, a design the 3D printer manufacturer developed. But the group had to get creative when the supply of needed materials began to dry up.

“When supplies are limited around the world, you have to get crafty and resourceful to meet local needs by bringing together a unique combination of minds, materials and labor in our area to get the job done,” Gaesser said.

Purpose member and artist Amelia Toelke had the idea to use layered sheets of laminate to produce the clear visor piece.

Libraries in Chatham, Catskill, Hillsdale and Tannersville offered up their stock of laminate sheets for this purpose. It takes two sheets of laminate, or an empty “pocket” that would usually protect one piece of paper per shield.

While not as sturdy as a standard shield, it will provide health care workers an additional barrier and can be sanitized for repeated use.

“We had the equipment to make them, so we decided to give it a shot,” Brandon Gamm of Purpose Cooperative said.

Each headband piece of the shield takes about two hours to print, and with two 3D printers running simultaneously, Purpose makers are able to fabricate between 16 and 20 per day.

“It makes us feel like these toys are being put to good use now,” Gamm said. “It’s made us all feel a lot more connected to the local community. We feel like we’re making a big impact, not nationally or anything, but it’s meant the difference between people having face shields and not having them.”

Around the Hudson Valley, others are answering the call, from Catskill Maker Syndicate pulling an all-nighter to assemble a new machine to Nervous System Designs in Palenville running materials testing.

Once an 1880s industrial factory, Basilica Hudson has been converted to a similar purpose, providing space for assembly and sanitizing in preparation for delivery.

“Almost every major grocery and hardware store in Greene and Columbia county has donated paper bags to be used to pack and deliver the face shields, and Cooper’s Daughter Spirits in Claverack has provided disinfectant, so that the face shields can be cleaned before they get anywhere near the hospital,” Gaesser said.

Singer said Basilica Hudson is the ideal location because of its proximity to CMH and that assemblers can practice social distancing at least six feet apart.

“This effort has been the result of the quick work and generosity of dozens of people and area businesses, as well as the willingness of CMH and several makers to think outside the box,” Singer said. “I am glad to have played a small organizational role in it.”

Between Purpose Cooperative and a maker group in Tivoli, 71 shields were delivered to CMH last week. With Catskill Maker Syndicate joining the mission, they are on target to deliver 150 on Monday and about 200 per week after that, until the goal of 1,000 is met or supplies run out.

“No one person and no one team could do this alone,” Gaesser said. “Purpose has been sort of the beating heart and driving force on this, but it’s involved so many people coordinating across Greene and Columbia counties.”

CMH is the only hospital in the Twin Counties, with a combined estimated population of 106,649, according to the Census Bureau.

“Protecting health care workers is the first thing that came to mind,” Singer said. “The entire point of the social distancing thing we’re undergoing is to flatten the curve so that we don’t overburden our hospitals, but that only works if the hospitals themselves are equipped to handle the cases that do come in.”

There are seven Purpose Cooperative members working on the shields, and Singer said altogether there are dozens of people involved in fabricating, sourcing materials, fundraising and assembly. Gaesser is working to make sure the operation can keep running if someone on the team gets sick.

Abby Hoover is a reporter for Columbia-Greene Media. Contact her at ahoover@registerstar.com.

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