Helping co-workers on the frontline face COVID safely

Caroline Gilbert, Orthotics and Prosthetics Technician at the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre, at work producing face shields to protect frontline workers
Caroline Gilbert, Orthotics and Prosthetics Technician at the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre, at work producing face shields to protect frontline workers

Until late March Daniel Rock’s job was adapting wheelchairs and other mobility aids at the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre. Now the technician has shifted to a crucial, new assignment: producing face shields for his co-workers on the front lines.

Mr. Rock and other members of the Technical Aids Service have been working behind the scenes to make nearly 11,000 face shields for nurses, doctors, orderlies and other professionals who need protection battling the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“If we can help just one person, we’ve done our job,” says Mr. Rock, an Orthotics and Prosthetics Technician at Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay. “We’re not on the front lines, but we are in health care. We’re helping from afar.”

The operation has been praised as an example of cooperation and solidarity within various services of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. At a time of widespread shortages of protective gear in the healthcare system, CIUSSS staff have come together to help one another.

“In the midst of what’s going on, we wanted to contribute as much as possible,” says Filomena Novello, Coordinator of JGH Rehabilitation Services and Technical Aids Service for Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay.

“I’m very proud of my team,” Ms. Novello says. “It’s amazing to see dedication and persistence to create something so desperately needed at other sites.”

The face shields went from idea to reality in a few short days.

On March 28, managers in our CIUSSS saw a news report about face-shield production at Sainte-Justine Hospital. They realized they could match the effort by tapping into the expertise at Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay, whose staff is trained to measure and fabricate orthotics and prosthetics.

Within hours, a first-floor conference room at the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce centre was converted into a production line. Materials were found on site to manufacture an initial run. Acetate sheeting, normally used to cover documents for PowerPoint or other presentations, was adapted for the transparent visor. Foam used for wheelchair cushions was repurposed to make padded headbands, which are used in some of the face-shield models.

Just a few days later, the team had produced eight prototypes. By the end of the week, they had churned out 500 face shields, all meeting the standards of our CIUSSS’s Infection Prevention and Control team.

Delivery trucks from the CIUSSS Logistics team now shuttle up to 1,000 face shields a day to sites across our network, from long-term care homes to CLSCs. (The Jewish General Hospital has its own, separate supply.)

Made by hand, each shield costs under $2 and can be disinfected and re-used. The items are in such great demand that requests are coming in from some of the province’s other healthcare networks, but for now, our CIUSSS is concentrating on supplying our own staff.

And our frontline workers are deeply appreciative.

“The masks have made our team feel confident and better protected,” says ​Judith Marchessault, Head Nurse in Palliative and Post-Acute Care at Mount Sinai Hospital. Some caregivers have even decorated their units with personal touches, she says.

“We thank your team so much for having thought of this technology and for thinking about supporting other departments outside Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay,” she adds.

Ryan Biserrar, Head Nurse of the Mount Sinai unit that cares for pulmonary patients, emphasized the shields’ impact on the well-being of staff. “It has helped ease a lot of the anxiety, just by having these visors at their disposal,” he says.

Employees at Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay, such as Mr. Rock, have been producing the face shields while maintaining their regular work tasks. Yet staff tend to show up spontaneously in the production room and offering their help, even if they have just 30 minutes or an hour to spare.

“They come to the door and ask, ‘What can I do?’” Mr. Rock says. Then they wash their hands, put on protective gloves, and get to work. “People feel pride. If we can do something to help protect people, it can make a difference.”

They’ve demonstrated at least one important lesson during the coronavirus outbreak: At times of crisis, some of the best protection can come from the support of your co-workers.