Source: The Center for Disease Control

As hospitals across the nation face critical shortages of Personal Protective Equipment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Emporia State has begun to 3D print medical-grade masks for Newman Regional.

“These masks can be wiped down,” said Kari Hess, associate professor of nursing, in a phone call. “In regard to our PPE shortage…each time that a nurse goes into that room that attire, that PPE, has to be removed and thrown away. Nurses are utilizing N95 masks for up to three to five shifts. That same mask is being used, it is not ideal by any means, but the reality is that the PPE has to be used that way because of the shortage and the demand.” 

As Newman regional continues to care for an increasing number of COVID-19 positive patients PPE is becoming an increasingly vital resource.  

“What would we have that would make our hospitals vulnerable should we get depleted in supplies,” Hess said. “The worst-case scenario is what is being said to nurses across the nation that they have to go in unprotected. Even the CDC made a statement about using handkerchiefs. From the point of view of nurses that is unacceptable.” 

According to Hess, it is essential that first responders and healthcare providers be able to practice safely not only for their patients but for themselves.  

“What I loved about the mask option is that if we needed it, it would be better than having cloth because we know the best option is a properly fitted N95-100 mask,” Hess said. “The filters in these masks are of that caliber…the filters pop out and the whole mask can be cleaned.” 

The college has also begun printing ventilator splitters, door openers and is working on developing plastic swabs to be used in testing for COVID-19 according to Mary McDaniel Anschutz, the director of Student Wellness.  

“This is our calling,” Hess said. “This is what we do. We are called to take care of patients in times of disaster, accidents and pandemics. For a lot of nurses, it is an emotionally and physically taxing job.” 

As quarantine orders continue, hospitals have had to compete with the public for resources according to Anschutz. 

Student wellness was fortunate enough to have plenty of PPE for our use stocked,” Anschutz said. “We ordered additional (supplies) in January before it got back ordered. And it is far easier in a clinic to stay stocked as opposed to a hospital where you burn through it a whole lot faster. We are in really good shape with our supply of PPE. We’ve been able to sit-test and share some of our N95s with ESU policeif law enforcement gets overwhelmed then ESU officers may need to be of assistance there and we certainly want them to be protected. 

As the infection preventionist at Newman Regional Health, Ester Knobloch has worked closely with the community in gathering supplies and promoting safe practices. 

“(There is a) critical need to keep our nurse’s safe in face masks,” Knobloch said. “Kari (Hess)had approached our department about these, and I got a prototype and I really liked the way the mask is constructed. Each person can get one and just replace the filters. It’s made from a surgical grade plastic.” 

According to Knobloch, the hospital is unable to acquire a disposable supply of PPE, so having reusable equipment is the next best thing.  

“It allows us to optimize our supply,” Knobloch said. "We have not used a 3D-printed option before, but we are thankful for the ingenuity of ESU and their willingness to reach out to us. Lyon county is in a pretty good position compared to other locations and we can credit our community for that. (They are) actively sewing cloth masks for our patients so we can keep the medical-grade masks for staff. 

As the central care provider for Lyon county, Newman Regional also serves portions of Chase, Coffee, Greenwood, Morris, Osage and Wabaunsee counties. 

“Thankfully we have not exceeded (our) capacity yet, and I really hope and pray that we don’t,” Knobloch said. “It is really important that the community follows social distancing so the hospital can maintain a safe capacity.” 

If you are not feeling well and are experiencing either coronavirus or flu symptoms, call (instead of visiting) the Student Wellness Center at 620-341-5222 or Newman Regional Health, 1201 W 12th Street, at 620-343-6800. 

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