Milwaukee VA ingenuity extends life of PPE - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center

 

Milwaukee VA ingenuity extends life of PPE

Matt Hively attaches shield to CAPR helmet

Matt Hively, environmental engineer with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, snaps a shield to a CAPR helmet. The shields are manufactured in-house at the hospital, saving money as well as helping to conserve valuable PPE.

By David Walter
Tuesday, December 29, 2020

In the ongoing battle against COVID-19, personal protective equipment (PPE) remains the strongest weapon until the vaccine is widely distributed.

To that end, the Milwaukee VA Medical Center is making its own PPE whenever possible, thus elongating the equipment’s use.

That’s especially evident with the CAPR (controlled air purifying respirator) helmets and shields in use in the COVID wards.

Thanks to Milwaukee VA ingenuity, the hospital is making its own shields for the helmets, which last much longer than those provided by the manufacturer.

“Our in-house lenses are much thicker and more durable and are designed to last for several months,” said Mike Moran, industrial hygienist for the hospital. “Plus, the ones we produce don’t break; the manufacturer’s (lenses) do break.”

Lenses from the manufacturer cost about $2.50 each, Moran said, but only last a few days at most. Meanwhile, the lenses being made in-house cost about $14 to $15 each but can last for many months if cared for properly.

The CAPR shields snap onto the helmets, and in the early days of use, the shields from the manufacturer were cracking after only a few days of reuse, Moran said, noting that the lenses weren’t designed for prolonged use.

“Our in-house lenses are much thicker and more durable and are designed to last for several months. Plus, the ones we produce don’t break; the manufacturer’s (lenses) do break.” Mike Moran, industrial hygienist

That fact, plus a backlog of three to four months in getting new lenses, pushed the hospital to get creative.

“This is a resource that is quite scarce, and we knew we needed an interim solution,” said Dr. Ankur Patel, co-commander for the Hospital Incident Command Team.

“So we solicited help from some of our shops around campus … which allowed us to 3-D print parts and make shields cut by our laser printers.”

The prototype in-house shields were thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy, Patel said, and by May they were being mass produced and put into use throughout the hospital.

However, the CAPR helmets had to be adapted to accommodate the thicker shields. Once again, 3-D printing and laser cutting came into play, turning out new plastic posts that could be attached to the helmets and used to secure the shields.

Mike Moran shows CAPR shields

Mike Moran, industrial hygienist for the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, shows a manufacturer's CAPR shield, left, and one made in-house at the hospital. The in-house shields can last for months, while those from the manufacturer typically last only a few days.

As long as employees affix and remove the shields properly and keep them clean, they will last for at least two months, Moran said.

“Over time, it starts to get scratched, and it’s hard to see through,” he said. “But it will protect you for more than two months. If you take good care of it, these will last.”

Patel, who also heads the hospital’s dental clinic, said he’s still using the same shield he got in July, though he noted he uses it only occasionally.

“If you’re using it regularly, you probably should replace it after two months,” he said. “But if you use it intermittently, you want to prolong its life as long as possible.”

Patel and Moran figured the hospital bought enough raw materials to produce about 3,100 shields and has used about half of the materials so far.

Employees who receive the shields are also give instructions on how to clean and maintain the shields; in fact the hospital produces its own in-house cleaning cloths that meet COVID-19 disinfection standards.

However, Patel stressed that conservation of all PPE is still essential.

“This is a really key resource in our medical center, and it will continue to be,” he said.

“I’d say we’re ahead of the game in coming up with creative solutions, but I think everybody is in a situation where there are some significant concerns about the supply chain. We’ve done ourselves a service by proactively solving some of these situations.”

Patel lauded hospital leadership as well as all the various departments that have come together to make sure the hospital has what it needs to endure through the pandemic.

“It has been a total team effort,” he said. “Being able to operate with all these professionals who have expertise has allowed us to take that creative thought and put it into action.”

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