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Community creates solution to medical supply shortages

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BLUE MOUNDS (WKOW) -- Hospitals across the country are anticipating a massive need for medical supplies, as more people get sick.

At UW Health in Madison, staff has seen its supply of masks, face shields and other protective gear dwindling, after incoming shipments came to a halt when the coronavirus outbreak began.

"That's what keeps my my team and I up at night," said Bob Scheuer, Director of Materials Management at UW Health. "It's day-by-day, seeing what we have, orders for all these out to many, many vendors, many suppliers. And we don't know if we're going to get what we've ordered. So we're doing our best to just broaden our supplier base, keep placing orders, making calls."

A week ago, the team made a connection that could help keep healthcare workers safe as UW Health officials anticipate a surge in patients at the hospital.

"I could see that it was a real need," Lennon Rodgers told 27 News.

Rodgers, an engineer at UW-Madison and director of the Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Lab, decided to design his own version of the face shields.

"After the kids went to bed, I went to Home Depot and some craft stores and put together a first prototype," he said. "I was kind of encouraged because it seemed somewhat feasible."

The shields are made of sheets of plastic and a band to go around the head. Right now, healthcare providers are wearing them over masks to prolong the life of the masks and protect their entire faces from the virus.

Rodgers reached out to design company Delve and they put the plans together, making them available online for free.

Midwest Prototyping in Blue Mounds is the first company to take on the effort, assembling about 1,000 shields in less than a week.

"We'll be able to really ramp up production now as the week goes on," said president Steve Grundahl. "By the end of the week, we intend to have the kits on hand to make several thousand of these pretty quickly and begin to ramp up from there."

The company estimates it will make 1 million shields in the next month.

About 30 other companies, many from Wisconsin, have expressed interest in helping, too.

"We also have an intake form, where there are roughly 70 different hospitals across the country that have requested shields," Rodgers said. "It's been interesting that it's been replicated and it's being replicated now all over the world."

Rodgers says he's working to find companies that can do large-scale production and has been developing plans with Ford, along with a company in New York, where the coronavirus is hitting hard.

"Most people are thinking anywhere from the hundreds of thousands to a million of them would be made by each of these different partners. But the demand seems in the millions at this point," he said.

UW Health has already gotten its first delivery of about 1,000 shields. They also sent some to Upland Hills in Dodgeville.

As more people need care and healthcare providers run out of equipment, this community response could be the answer to solving one part of the coronavirus crisis.

"This affects every single person, or has the potential to, and how do you not help, right?" Grundahl told 27 News. "We all have friends in healthcare, we all have relatives in healthcare. This is just an opportunity to try and get them home safe at the end of the day."

Click here for more information on the COVID-19 face shield project.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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