A handful of Regional Medical Center staff waited patiently outside the hospital’s main entrance around noon Friday until a white van pulled up.
Engineers from the Honda plant in Lincoln unloaded about 20 boxes from the van’s cargo area to a metal cart, which was wheeled rolled into the hospital. Sean Jones, a department manager at the plant, said the boxes contained 200 plastic face shields created by Honda using 3-D printers.
He pulled one from a box and showed it to RMC health system CEO Louis Bass.
It was a brief exchange, but for RMC staff, it made a long-lasting difference in how they care for patients who have COVID-19 or those who are waiting for test results.
Elaine Davis, RMC’s chief nursing officer, said Honda representatives reached out to the hospital several weeks ago asking if they needed any shields.
“I can’t tell you how overwhelmed we were to know that there were industries out there that want to provide a product to us, protective personal equipment,” Davis said. “They are caring for us so we can provide care to other people.”
Bass said the hospital was in “good shape,” as far as having enough protective gear for staff, but saw a shortage on certain items, such as face shields and gowns.
Bass said the donated shields are reusable, meaning staff can easily sterilize them, saving the hospital’s resources.
Bass said the shields will be used in the hospital’s COVID-19 unit. On Friday, Bass said, there were 12 patients housed in the unit. Four of those patients had tested positive for the virus, and the remaining eight were showing symptoms and “under investigation,” he said.
“They use the face shields extensively in the COVID unit in order to protect all of the workers,” Bass said.
Jones said the plant hasn’t made cars for about three weeks, so they decided to put their technology to good use. Jones said he tasked some of Honda’s engineers to see if there was a need for anything in the community.
“Talking to the organizations we’ve already reached out to, we’re hearing from the front lines what they desperately need,” Jones said. “To be able to make that fairly easily at our facility has been very humbling for us.”
When making the shields, Jones said, he was able to form a partnership with Lincoln High School and Charles R. Drew Middle School by borrowing five 3D printers and making face shields for school staff to use when they were handing out meals to students. The five borrowed printers were added to Honda’s own supply of 10, a company spokeswoman said.
Jones said the shields donated Friday were just some of more than 1,000 the company plans to donate to hospitals in northeast Alabama.
“Our plan is to do basically every week, 200 this week, 300 next week and so on until we can fulfill that order,” Jones said. “We have 11 commitments right now. Coosa Valley is next week and Gadsden Regional is next week.”
Tim Young, the principal for Drew Middle, said the partnership with the schools came when one one of his teachers, Beth Trotter, whose husband works for Honda, said the company was looking for 3D printers to help with the project.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to, first and foremost, help our community, and to be on the giving end,” Young said.
He explains that oftentimes, Honda is the one helping out the school so he felt it was right to give back some to them.
In return for their help Honda gave some of the first 15 visors completed to Lincoln’s schools. Young said he and the other school administrators will use the shields while working on Lincoln’s grab-and-go lunch program.
Bass said he’s thankful for the “outpouring of support” the hospital’s gotten since the pandemic struck, which includes locals sewing cloth masks for staff, restaurants delivering meals and local industries making and donating supplies for the hospital.
According to a news release from RMC, Tim Hurst with the Glass Doctor worked with hospital leaders to create a “protective enclosure” to intubate patients, while Forte Power Systems, Fitco, M&H Valve and Lowe’s donated protective gear and cleaning supplies.
ERA King also donated storage space to the hospital, and New Leaf Marketing donated storage and hand sanitizer, the release stated.
Daily Home staff writer Taylor Mitchell contributed reporting for this story.