PORT TOWNSEND — The shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers has been a problem since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to other industries working to fill in the gaps.
One of those is Sea Marine, which, with the assistance of Hasse Sails, has agreed to make 100 hospital gowns for Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend. Sixteen have been completed and delivered, said Chris Bakken, Sea Marine general manager.
When COVID-19 started to gain momentum in the state, Bakken was informed of the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital workers by a customer who works as a pharmacist at Jefferson Healthcare.
He contacted Kelly O’Connell, executive director of support services for Jefferson Healthcare, and first made a face shield.
Then O’Connell explained they needed gowns, so Bakken’s team started working on prototypes.
Each gown takes between 75 and 90 minutes to make. The gowns can’t be sewn on industrial-sized sewing machines like those at Hasse Sails; they must be put together on small household machines.
The fabric must be hand cut, and the cuffs on the sleeves have to be sewn on in a specific way, Bakken said.
“We improvised and figured out a way to make it work,” he said. “There’s a need now, and we’re trying to fill that need as fast as we can.”
Bakken said Daniele and Jeff Johnson of Sea Marine’s canvas department were “doing the heavy lifting” on making the gowns, and he had assistance from Sea Marine finance manager Ginger Brown in organizing the project.
Bakken credited Chorale and Nicky Hopkins of Hasse Sails for assistance with the gowns’ design.
A bonus is that unlike the disposable gowns, these gowns can be washed, sanitized and reused, Bakken said.
Hospital staff members appreciate the work, O’Connell said.
“The whole team has been wonderful to work with. They have been so collaborative with us to get our teams the protection they need,” O’Connell wrote in an email.
“They produced an initial garment based on one of our existing gowns and then customized the design after staff provided feedback.
“We landed on a great product,” she continued. “Staff who have seen the finished prototypes are super excited.
“While our community hasn’t suffered the impact of the pandemic that others have, the emotional toll is significant. The constant worry of ‘will our staff have everything they need?’ has been at the forefront in all our minds.”
The Pennsylvania vendor, which is selling the fabric at medical wholesale cost to Sea Marine, has been overloaded with orders, Bakken said, leading to some delays.
“The supply houses are getting crushed by demand,” he said.
In addition to the Johnsons, Bakken also is paying community seamstresses who have agreed to help make the gowns, he said.
As of Tuesday, Bakken hoped to cut and distribute the materials to local seamstresses and Sea Marine workers, who will assemble them. He said he hoped to have some of the gowns completed by the end of the week.
The gowns cost about $53 to make — which is split 50/50 with material cost and seamstress time — and Bakken is selling them to the hospital for less than $50, Bakken said.
“I will probably end up losing money on it, but time will tell,” he added.
The hospital is awaiting the remaining 84 gowns before they distribute them for use, O’Connell said.
“We really appreciate the care and attention to detail Chris, Ginger and Daniele have put into this project,” O’Connell said. “It is evidence of how our community has really stepped in to help where they can.
“It is reassuring and reminds us we are not in this alone. We have partners in our community.”
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].