The collaboration arose out of personal connections. Kevin Dailey, the vice president of Administration/CHRO at Southwestern Vermont Health Care had led human resources at Mack until five years ago. He knew the type of specialty plastics manufacturing and rapid product development Mack was capable of. When it was clear that PPE would likely run short, he gave his friends there a call. Realizing the extraordinary tight time-frame and regionally important challenge, Mack—a supplier of contract injection molded plastic parts to companies in a range of industries—called on Adam Lehman, president of their Woodbridge, Conn., subsidiary, Synectic, to identify immediately available options that could be redesigned to function as a respirator. Lehman located a snorkeling mask that the Synectic design team could quickly reengineer into Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
“When I informed Synectic’s team about this project, they were ready and excited for the challenge,” said Jeff Somple, president at Mack headquarters in nearby Arlington, Vt. “It was an opportunity for some groundbreaking innovation and to make a meaningful difference for our region’s front line healthcare workers.”
After only two weeks of design, testing, and manufacturing, Mack’s team at Synectic fabricated an attachment to a snorkeling scuba mask. The mask covers the entire face and denecessitates the use of disposable masks and shields. Their engineers removed the part that usually protrudes out of the water when snorkeling and replaced it with a new, custom-designed branched component equipped with cartridges containing P100 HEPA filters.
“Mack has always been a tremendous regional partner and an integral supporter of the health system for many years,” Dailey said. “As an essential manufacturer of health care products, I knew that they would want to help and came through with a brilliant solution for us.”
Each SVHC staff member is “fit tested” to ensure an adequate seal and assigned a mask. Each employee receives cleaning and storage guidelines, instructing how to disinfect and store their mask after each shift. The custom snorkeling branch modification and P100 HEPA filter casings can be easily removed for cleaning and screwed securely back in place. Before each use, staff conduct a positive and negative pressure test to ensure the masks are holding up for their protection. The fact that the air intake is above the wearer’s head improves the line of site and allows patients to see their physicians’ and nurses’ faces more clearly.
“Our priority is to ensure the safety of our staff while caring for patients during the pandemic,” said Shiela Boni, R.N., MSN, a nursing director and PPE officer for SVHC. “The retrofitted scuba mask accomplishes this while decreasing our dependence on disposable masks.”
Unlike medically approved respirators, the scuba mask has been adapted to meet the filtration requirements of personal protective equipment (PPE). The risk assessment conducted by Mack’s design and SVHC showed that the mask fully seals around the face with silicone, reducing skin breakdown, and the N100 HEPA filters have a higher rate of filtration than the material in the traditional N95 masks. Less than three weeks after the initial request to Mack, their subsidiary Synectic delivered 500 scuba masks and 2,000 N100 HEPA filter casings to the hospital.
Thomas A. Dee, FACHE, SVHC’s president and CEO, expressed relief at having secured the adapted scuba masks to outfit those in the highest risk areas of the hospital. “This is a great example of how collaboration and innovation sustain us during challenging times,” Dee said. “Our gratitude for the hardworking teams at Mack and Synectic, who put many long hours into this project, cannot be overstated. This is another wonderful example of Mack’s continued support of SVHC.”