A group of employees at the University put their expertise and resources to work for the state’s health care industry last spring and summer in an effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, Michael Price ’15, the digital media and emerging technologies librarian at UM’s Carmichael Library, heard news reports about hospitals across the nation facing a severe shortage of personal protective equipment such as face shields due to the pandemic.
After reading about people using 3D printers to create personal protective equipment to donate to health care facilities, Price knew he could do the same. He originally reached out to Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster, which said it would be happy to accept the 3D printed face shields.
A widespread effort
Price then contacted his colleague Kyle Moore, assistant professor of theatre, who also had access to a 3D printer. Together, the two used their expertise to create a plan to help Shelby Baptist by 3D printing and donating as many protective face shields as possible.
Price and Moore received support from Dr. David Callaghan, chair of UM’s Department of Theatre, Carmichael Library Director Dr. Charlotte Ford and Associate Professor of Theatre Emily Gill, who helped to secure material to use for straps on the face masks.
Gill was also involved in helping the Birmingham Mask Facebook group, which worked to coordinate a widespread mask-making and distribution effort throughout the metro area. Through the group, Gill used fabric donated from a local volunteer and surplus elastic from the UM Costume Shop to handmake masks and donate them to the group’s organizers to provide to area health care facilities and first responders. Gill said one of her students, Cason Cooke, was instrumental in handmaking most of the masks donated to the group.
“The mask group was a good way to centralize efforts,” Gill said. “They had a very well-organized request and direct-fill system.”
The project expands
After the group of UM volunteers saw success in helping Shelby Baptist, they expanded their efforts throughout the state. Price reached out to other health care facilities and first responder agencies in Alabama, and discovered most of them had a dire need for more face coverings as the pandemic took hold in the state.
From there, Price, Moore, Assistant Professor of Art Lee Somers, Carmichael Library Head of Technical Services Amanda Melcher ’03 and a few members of the Montevallo community went to work 3D printing as many face shields as they could over a several-month period.
When the effort concluded in late August, the group had printed, molded, assembled and distributed more than 2,500 face shields to hospitals, nursing home facilities, dental offices, medical clinics and fire departments in every corner of Alabama.
The group also provided face shields to Montevallo employees, particularly to faculty members to utilize when leading in-person classes during the fall semester.
‘Something very special’
Price said knowing Montevallo’s efforts were making a significant difference for those on the front lines of COVID-19 response was a humbling experience.
“If felt great to reach out to the community and get a grasp of their needs as the pandemic began to unfold, Price said. “In my position at the library I want to help students to solve problems. I cannot always do that on my own. It was good to know going in that I had colleagues and even local support that found me after seeing me on television. We were able to pool our resources and skills to help bring protective equipment to first responders, medical caregivers and even instructors.
“UM was able to go beyond its brick pathways and help people in need,” Price added. “A small group of faculty volunteers met the needs of hundreds of people. There’s something very special about that.”
Throughout the process, the volunteers received a steady provision of monetary and supply donations from alumni and members of the community to allow the group to continue its efforts throughout the spring and summer.
“I am so grateful for the way our University family has stepped up to help others in a time of crisis,” said President Stewart. “Michael and his colleagues are to be commended for their creativity and leadership related to the mask shortage. I am very proud of them.”