FAIRMONT – Faced with about three months of having protective face masks on back order, a nonprofit hospice used some inqenuity to solve its problem.
WV Caring, which serves Marion County and 11 other counties from its headquarters in Arthurdale, is on its way to making 300 face masks for its caregivers, patients and family members.
Cindy Woodyard, vice president of public affairs and access for WV Caring, said the sewing project was led by Kim Riley, who used to lead a Weight Watchers class in Fairmont for a number of years. Now, with the heightened awareness of the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, the need for the masks became heightened like no other time in the nonprofit’s history.
“Kim figured out what we needed to do, what we needed to have to make them and then, we got the volunteers together,” said Woodyard. “This started informally Wednesday and by Thursday morning, it was game on.”
Volunteers were arranged in assembly-line fashion in WV Caring’s headquarters. Some volunteers measured and cut fabric, while others sewed.
“Even if you weren’t a great sewer, you could help us cut the fabric,” Woodyard said. “By 11 a.m. Thursday, she had all of the materials.”
Woodyard also credits WV Caring’s Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Dodson, whom she describes as “also crafty,” for getting the volunteers mobilized.
“She had sewing groups who wanted to jump in,” Woodyard said. “A lot of our volunteers are at home, and in this case, a lot of our volunteers were more than willing to put their talents to work.”
She said the WV Caring nurses and caregivers have been monitoring the coronavirus since January and knew it was only a matter of time until it would reach West Virginia and impact the daily work of the hospice.
“In the work we do, we see patients 24 hours a day,” Woodyard said. “We have to be out there and we have to take care of our patients and that’s what drives us.”
After each mask is completed by a volunteer sewer, they are inspected and sanitized. As designed, the masks are washable and include a slot where filters can be placed inside.
“It’s pleated so you can open it up and put a filter in there,” Woodyard said. “The pleats allow it to breath and change the filters because they are washable.”
At press time, West Virginia has tested 397 residents for COVID-19. Of those, 12 tested positive, 385 tests were negative and 1 test is pending at the state lab. The virus is believed to impact the elderly the hardest followed by others who have a secondary underlying health condition or a compromised autoimmune system. Woodyard said WV Caring serves “almost 200 patients” in its 12-county region.
“We weren’t going to wait. We couldn’t wait. We use those for the sickest of the sick,” Woodyard said. “As you probably know, the elderly are more suspectible, vulnerable because their immune systems are already compromised.”
So far, the masks have become a hit on social media to a point where WV Caring is now fielding phone calls from people who want to buy them. However, she reiterates that there’s no need for someone who is not experiencing symptoms to wear a protective face mask.
Woodyard said when she hears a COVID-19 update, she believes West Virginia has been lucky. She also ponders whether part of that luck comes from the state’s mountains and how many people historically simply have not wanted “to climb those mountains,” she said.
“We’re a great state, we have a lot of faith,” Woodyard said. “We have fresh air and trees. It’s just a great state.”
As far as the masks go, Woodyard said this batch of 300 probably won’t be the only ones their volunteers make.
“It’s scary. I think in times like this, I think we truly see the West Virginia part of all of us come out and you see people helping each other and not fighting each other for paper products or food. We’re truly blessed by how we are and I hope everyone takes a moment to relfect on that,” she said.
Reach Eric Cravey at (304) 367-2523.