There was no script or plan etched in stone that had simple answers or even protocol as potential supply shortages loomed ahead of WellSpan Health’s COVID-19 journey.
Instead, leaders within the organization took a proactive approach by fostering relationships to secure necessary resources needed to care for communities and staff, including a special partnership with Letterkenny Army Depot near Chambersburg.
On May 1, Letterkenny started production of 70,000 protective gowns for WellSpan Health to help bolster the local healthcare system’s supply chain as it continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Letterkenny produced prototypes for cloth face masks for WellSpan Health, which has shared the designs with other community partners.
“The level of community engagement and support of the health system in an unselfish manner has been overwhelming. Letterkenny has been the epitome of that,” said Keith Noll, senior vice president – chief administrative officer for WellSpan Health.
Letterkenny Army Depot has been supporting frontline U.S. military efforts since the 1940s and willingly stepped up to join a much different fight to protect citizens.
“The Department of Defense is here to help defend our country in time of need, and obviously with the threat of COVID, there’s limited options for the Department of Defense to do that. So to be able to work with WellSpan, and really help them out in their fight, since they’re the actual frontline of this fight against COVID, to be able to help them out in providing them the supplies that they need is a tremendous opportunity,” Letterkenny Commander Col. Gregory Gibbons said.
In February, prior to its first patient testing positive for COVID-19, WellSpan Health was reacting to supply chain demand as production of personal protective equipment (PPE) in China was squelched due to the country’s own battle with the pandemic. For example, an order of 500,000 protective gowns was redirected to cities experiencing the highest rates of COVID inpatient admissions within the United States.
Meanwhile, John Massimilla, chief operating officer and vice president of administration for WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital, watched a local television newscast in early April that highlighted Letterkenny Army Depot’s upholstery shop which produced around 4,800 cloth masks to protect its own employees. He wondered if a similar effort or collaboration could help protect a portion of WellSpan Health’s 20,000 employees.
It opened the door to a partnership as Massimilla shared the information about Letterkenny’s efforts with WellSpan Health’s performance improvement team, comprised of hospital officials and engineers. According to Noll, the team would later be nicknamed the “MacGyver” team after the star of the TV series who used unconventional problem-solving skills to save lives.
“Within a day, we were connected with Letterkenny,” Noll said.
Thinking outside the box by the team led by Debra Ruckert, senior director of performance improvement at WellSpan Health, resulted in unconventional designs and paths to production that incorporated local manufacturers and distilleries which had capabilities of producing anything from hand sanitizer to intubation devices and masks.
Members of the hospital’s team visited Letterkenny Army Depot to learn more about its manufacturing capabilities. Typically, the upholstery shop at Letterkenny focuses on production of items such as canvas tents, kitchens and vinyl products.
As discussions moved forward and the partnership took shape, Letterkenny shared its mask design for producing cloth community masks, while innovation was taking on a life of its own back in York.
A few sheets of plastic, garbage bags and a rain poncho were used in figuring out a prototype that would allow WellSpan Health to eventually mesh a material design to create isolation gowns.
“The next question for Letterkenny was ‘Can you make this for us?’” Noll said.
Letterkenny didn’t hesitate to support the effort as it reallocated resources to adequately staff its upholstery shop to begin gown production.
Congressman John Joyce (R-13) issued the following statement on the partnership: “The partnership between Letterkenny Army Depot and WellSpan Health to produce critically-needed PPE is a testament to Pennsylvanians’ ability to develop innovative solutions here at home. It is encouraging to see PPE being manufactured for our community by our community. In the face of this ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Pennsylvanians have demonstrated their commitment to serving their neighbors and meeting tangible needs in their communities. This partnership between Letterkenny Army Depot and WellSpan Health will have immediate benefits for our highly skilled workforce, frontline health care teams, and patients alike.”
While the initial order was to make 70,000 protective gowns, Noll said that there is enough material to support production of at least 225,000. Letterkenny expects production to take six to eight weeks to fulfill the first order, while it provides weekly deliveries to a WellSpan distribution site.
He added that innovative thinking and partnering with manufacturers throughout the five counties that WellSpan Health serves, can allow the system to be less reliant on the national supply chain and be better prepared moving forward.
“It makes you feel good about living in south-central Pennsylvania. The people that live here, the people that work here, and the companies that exist here, and I have nothing but wonderful thoughts. Letterkenny has been a glowing example of that and I would like to thank them for their support, their patience and their focus on trying to do something from a community standpoint that I have never been part of in my 30 years of health care,” Noll said.