With supply companies unable to fulfill emergency requests for medical face shields, and with a need to assure this critical resource for staff in its hospitals, Harris Health System reached out to an unlikely partner for help—the University of Houston.
Medical face shields are a vital part of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that doctors and nurses at Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson hospitals use every day when caring for confirmed or suspected Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients.
“Face shields are one of our most challenging pieces of protective equipment to get during these times of need,” says Chris Okezie, vice president of system operations, Harris Health System. “They’re also the most effective equipment to protect our front-line staff.”
Thinking beyond suppliers, Harris Health reached out to UH’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design for manufacturing help. Answering the call was Aaron McEuen, instructional lab manager of the college’s Burdette Keeland Jr. Design Exploration Center, who within a day created a prototype to see if his lab could produce the needed equipment.
It proved successful.
Okezie and Harris Health leadership were impressed and provided the school a face shield to replicate. Today, the school is creating hundreds of medical face shields that will soon be delivered to Harris Health’s hospitals. With an initial order of 500, more are expected as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“This is a great example of how people of this great city and county come together to address a common and dire need,” says Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, President and CEO, Harris Health System. “I want to personally thank the staff and leadership of University of Houston for stepping up and leading the way to help Harris Health care for our communities in the safest possible way.”
Using universal laser cutters, the lab can perform vector cuts to create the semi-circular plastic see-through face shields. In a single setting, the laser cutters can produce up to 10 face shields in three minutes. Assembly of the lightweight shields takes a little longer.
“Harris Health has had an education and training relationship with the University of Houston and its students for years, but never an aspect where the school is providing Harris Health with vital medical supplies,” Okezie says. “I’m sure making face shields were never on Aaron and his team’s radar a few weeks ago. They basically had to retool and repurpose their labs to make this happen.”
McEuen admits making face shields was not a consideration for the lab until the current health crisis gripping the world.
“Honestly, it’s nice to be productive. I know a lot of people are cooped up in their houses,” he says. “We’re lucky to have the opportunity to contribute.”
One of the biggest hurdles for the project has been waiting for necessary raw materials to create the face shields. Most shipping and delivery services are experiencing major delays because of the heavier-than-usual delivery demands seen across the U.S.
“We are committed to supporting Houston during this unprecedented pandemic,” said Patricia Belton Oliver, dean, Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design. “Our collaboration with Harris Health System utilizes, in a small way, our expertise in design and fabrication and its power to safeguard our community’s healthcare workers as they fight COVID-19.”
Okezie calls the collaboration an example of innovation, creative thinking and ingenuity at its best.
“Two unlikely partners like Harris Health and UH working to mitigate the supply need for protective equipment during our global response to COVID-19,” he says. “Aaron and his team are wonderful and amazing people who have stepped up to help the community during its time of need.”