When Lisa Kimble got a call from her friend who is a nurse at Frederick Health Hospital about the shortage of masks for health care workers, she knew she could help.
Kimble is the chapter coordinator of The Linus Group of Frederick County, a nonprofit that sews blankets for children who are recovering from a trauma or crisis. The members of the group have plenty of sewing experience — and a lot of time on their hands — so she figured they were a perfect group to get to work on handmade masks.
“All the elective surgeries are being canceled, so the blankets aren’t really going to go out the door, and it gives everyone something to do while they’re home — while helping their community,” Kimble said.
The Linus Group isn’t the only organization on board — ShieldCo, a sign manufacturer in Frederick, and the Clustered Spires Quilt Guild are among others also starting to make masks by hand.
N95 respirators, surgical masks that are used to prevent droplets from touching health care workers’ faces, have been in short supply in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But doctors, nurses and other health care providers need them now more than ever.
Danita Frisby, president of the Clustered Spires Quilt Guild, said a guild member saw an article online about how to make masks by hand and suggested it to the group.
Frisby wanted to make sure that FHH would accept the masks, so the group made a sample mask and brought it to the development office to review.
“And we tweaked it a little bit, and got the pattern they were happy with and wanted, and we sent out an email blast to all of our members that said please make masks for the hospital,” Frisby said.
FHH prefers a slightly smaller mask than some of the standard patterns online. The guild has created a document with instructions on its website (clusteredspiresquiltguild.org) that can be used to make a mask.
The masks are made of 100 percent, tightly woven cotton with quarter-inch elastics for the straps. Luke Markey, the co-owner of ShieldCo, said that his company wanted to help make masks in addition to helping other people make masks, so they bought enough cotton and elastic to make about 1,000.
Markey and some ShieldCo employees have been using two sewing machines in the office to make the masks, and are providing material to anybody who wants to help.
“In my position as a business owner, I would much rather take action than sit on the sidelines, while I’m healthy, while I’m capable,” Markey said. “I’d much rather be able to do something of benefit to the community.”
Materials are also available at JoAnn’s Fabric at 1003 W. Patrick St., which is still open for curbside pickup. Frisby said, however, that no quarter-inch elastic is currently available.
Robin Rose, vice president of development at FHH, said that the hospital has already received hundreds of masks, which will mainly be used on top of N95 respirators to help lengthen the time they can be used. The masks can also be worn alone by employees who do not have direct contact with patients.
In addition to masks, the hospital is looking for other personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, plexiglass full-face shields and gloves. They are also looking for equipment such as temporal thermometers, disposable stethoscopes, stuck and pulse oxygen monitors, in addition to hand sanitizer and disinfecting supplies.
Rose said that the hospital is preparing for a possible surge of patients, in which case it will need a lot of supplies, room and staff.
“We would love to say that we won’t have to use them because we won’t have a surge of coronavirus patients,” Rose said. “But we have to be prepared.”
The community has already stepped up to help, Rose said. In addition to the hundreds of handmade masks the hospital has already received, Frederick Community College, Hood College and Frederick County Public Schools have helped with donations. Raymar Moving provided a van-load of gloves and paper products to the hospital as well.
“The generosity of people is just amazing,” Rose said.
Those interested in making a cash donation can visit frederickhealth.org/donatenow. The hospital has also received interest in food donations to health care workers, but Rose encourages those interested to contact the development office at 240-566-3478 to coordinate with the hospital.
Walking into the hospital with a donation unannounced can be dangerous. With the spread of the coronavirus, coordination is key.
Both Frisby and Kimble have set up systems with their organizations to collect the masks and bring them into the development office. The guild has a drop-off box on the porch at 1600 Bolton St., and the Linus Project has a drop-off box at JoAnn’s.
Kimble is also available to pick up masks from those who do not want to leave their house.
“There’s those quilters that have stashes of fabrics in their home, and they’re probably cranking out masks, but they don’t want to go out because they’re a high-risk group,” Kimble said.
Rose hopes that the community will stay informed and up to date with the hospital’s needs through its Facebook page and website, as their needs will change in the upcoming weeks.
She finds it touching that the hospital, which was started in 1902 by a group of women solely on donations from the community, is still being helped by the Frederick community now.
“More than 100 years later, here we are still relying on our community to help, to help us care for the sick. For 100 years, that’s what has sustained us,” she said. “And we couldn’t be more grateful.”