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Gillette’s OPS Team Creates Masks in Addition to Life-Changing Prosthetics

Staff members at Gillette Children's are now wearing brand new face masks as they work – courtesy of Gillette’s own Orthotics, Prosthetics and Seating (OPS) department.  

Gillette’s OPS department is no stranger to solving difficult problems. After all, Gillette was one of the nation’s first hospitals to develop a custom orthosis to correct flat head syndrome. The Gillette CranioCap® orthosis was the nation’s first orthosis approved by the Food and Drug Administration for deformational plagiocephaly. 

On top of that, the OPS department is often called upon to create solutions for the unique problems that individual patients face. For example, they made a glasses strap so a young boy could wear his glasses securely and a custom orthotic to help a little girl ride a bike, just to name a few.  

Soon after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended wearing cloth face coverings in public, one of Gillette’s Pediatric Infectious Disease (ID) experts, Emily Schaaf, MD, knew there would be a need for each staff member to have a high-quality face mask. Gillette providers and staff serve a population of patients whose care cannot be put on hold. We know that families still need critical assessments, diagnoses, interventions and treatments that, when delayed, could have lifelong effects on their health and well-being. They rely on Gillette for life-changing and lifesaving care that cannot wait.  

The challenge would be finding a masking solution that didn’t deplete Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) reserved for direct patient care. She, along with her ID team members, invited the OPS department to the table for their fabricating expertise and history of innovation. 

"We are all really skilled sewers and we are fabricators and we all like to invent and create, so this was right up our alley,” said Mike Pfleghaar, a seating technician at Gillette. “We took the mask idea and ran with it."  

“It’s a challenging time, but our purpose is clear - to provide safe care for those who rely on us. In this case, our infectious disease team, Environment of Care (EOC) colleague, and Orthotics, Prosthetics and Seating (OPS) department developed masks for our staff. It’s this creativity and commitment that helps us continue to innovate and continue to serve our patients and their families,” says Barbara Joers, CEO of Gillette Children's.

Masking is important for everyone’s safety, not just those on the frontlines of patient care. The CDC tells us that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others while they feel completely healthy.  

This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. That means everyone you see wearing a mask at the grocery store is making an effort to protect YOU. You wearing a mask protects them!

That’s why the masking team at Gillette tested almost 18 different prototypes in the simulation lab. They rigged a mannequin with a small pressure washer to simulate coughing and sneezing, then used colored water to see how much “sneeze” would go through the mask. After four days of iteration, the ID team and OPS techs settled on a mask that best met their requirements: Snug fit, all-day comfort, and highest safety.  

In fact, fit, comfort, safety was the OPS mantra when prototyping masks. If the fit isn’t correct on the face, particles can escape the mask; and if the mask isn’t comfortable, people are less likely to use them. A mask that sits on the kitchen counter or gets left in the car instead of worn doesn’t do anything! 

“Just as automobile companies don’t usually make ventilators, Gillette is not typically in the business of making masks – but we have the skills to do it and the need is there,” says Ankur Sharma, Assistant VP of Integrated Care. “This sort of pivot illustrates the work Gillette always does. We’re making masks to keep our staff safe. It’s a problem we’re solving with innovation, but the root is compassion. We prototyped and tested 18 versions to make sure we ended up with the safest iteration. We make them out of surgical wrap instead of cloth, autoclave the masks to sanitize them, they’re individually packaged, washable and reusable, free to every staff member. We didn’t just say, let’s make something and get it out to people.” 

“We went to such lengths with these masks because we want to take every action to safeguard the health and well-being of our patients, families, staff and volunteers,” says Dr. Schaaf. “Every day, new information changes the landscape of this crisis, but this is the work we do – the work we have always done. We encounter the unknown and we leverage our experience to solve problems for our patients.” 

So far, the OPS and ID team has made and distributed 400 masks. When Gillette’s stockpile of masks reaches appropriate levels through procurement and internal production, the team may slow or halt production but will continue to prototype new, safer versions for future use. 

During these unprecedented times, Gillette Children’s continues to provide essential care to our patients and important resources to the community. Help this support this vital work by donating.