Volunteers sew masks to combat shortage

Medical staff have sounded alarms that they don’t have enough stockpiled medical equipment.

By Treva Lind

The Spokesman-Review

Facing a nationwide shortage of masks, volunteers across the Inland Northwest are answering the call to help.

That includes residents at a Cheney care facility who were asked to sew homemade versions of the protective gear.

The sewn masks will be used at Cheney Care Community by residents and staff on its campus that has skilled-care, assisted-living and independent-living units, said Keith Fauerso, Cheney Care Community executive director.

“We got 30 today, and they’ll try to have another 70 by Monday,” he said on Friday.

Four women who live in the facility’s independent-living retirement units started sewing the masks earlier this week. Others are being crafted by a friend of an employee who tapped members of her Cheney mom’s group to sew, Fauerso said.

“Our facility has a few paper masks left, but we will run out soon,” he said. The facility serves about 130 residents overall. “We’ve ordered more, but they are back-ordered. We thought we needed to do something now to protect our residents.”

Other medical workers and facilities nationwide have made similar pleas for home-sewn masks because of shortages of health care personal protective gear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One is Providence Renton, which has initiated the 100 million mask challenge in an effort to have volunteers with sewing machines at home to produce that many masks. Sewing patterns are circulating online.

U.S. doctors, nurses and other medical staff have sounded alarms that they don’t have enough stockpiled medical equipment including masks, gowns and gloves to fulfill the health care system’s needs.

So far, Spokane’s Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and MultiCare Deaconess facilities aren’t requesting that people sew masks, in part because they are conserving supplies and in part because federal guidelines recommended N95 masks around those who are suspected to be infected.

“We are not doing this yet, but interest has been enormous,” said Jennifer Semenza, a communication manager at Providence Sacred Heart in Spokane. “There are specific requirements the masks need to meet.”

But if that changes, she said an update will go out to the community.

Kevin Maloney, a MultiCare Deaconess spokesman, said that across the health care industry, personal protective equipment supplies — and most specifically masks — are at a premium.

“But we are conserving supplies on evidence-based safety measures in consultation with local, regional and national public health agencies,” he said in an email. “During this time, members of our community have reached out to donate supplies out of the kindness of their heart, which we can happily accept. We are seeking donations of unopened PPE supplies including masks, gloves, and gowns.”

During weekdays only, he said the unopened items can be brought between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday to the loading dock or given to security staff at either MultiCare Deaconess or Valley hospitals.

The Renton hospital campaign has worked only with Western Washington volunteers. Organizers created kits, which the website says are currently all claimed. Each kit includes medical-grade material that has been lab-tested, the site said.

But locally, other groups in Spokane are organizing similar projects to sew homemade face masks, either for a facility, groups of people such as the elderly and homeless, or for friends who work in various health care fields outside hospitals.

Cyndie Knudson of Liberty Lake is collecting material from neighbors to start working with her mom, Linda Hulett, and another friend to start sewing masks for friends who work in medical fields. They found a pattern online.

“My neighbor works in physical therapy, and she mentioned that she had to give out her last extra mask to a patient who had to go in for treatment,” Knudson said. “My mom and I are finding local places that need them. We will check with nursing homes in different places if they’re needed.”

But she said some sewing supplies needed for the project are suddenly out in many stores here, so she went to a Facebook group to ask for donations and made an order online.

“Stores are out of elastic; I called three stores today,” she said. “I think it’s because people are doing this same thing.”

Fauerso said residents who are sewing the Cheney facility’s masks are following specific sewing patterns. The facility members will use them once, after which they’ll be laundered before another wearing.

“It’s kind of folded or pleated, and they’ve attached elastic, so it goes behind the ears,” he said. “They’re in all kinds of colors and designs.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends N95 specialized masks along with other protective gear when health care staff are working closely with coronavirus patients or those suspected of infection.

“It’s better to have the N95 respirator face mask,” Fauerso said. “But if you don’t have that, these work, or you use a regular paper mask. I saw a news article about a facility in Seattle — it’s a hospital — and they’re disinfecting their gowns and reusing them. They’re disinfecting masks and reusing.

“These sewn masks work for everyday use, and it gives staff and residents a level of comfort.”

Dorothy Hilyard is one of the Cheney Community residents undertaking the project.

“I’ve been sewing since high school,” she said. “We’re using a pattern online, and it’s to protect everyone who is either in front or behind the mask from diseases.

“We have 56 almost completed. It’s wonderful thing to be able to do this to help people and to protect them.”

Local members of the American Sewing Guild also have posted that they’re working with Spokane County fire and health department officials to organize the production of sewing face masks for facilities, the homeless and first responders.