SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Some employees at Mercy are switching roles to join an assembly line to meet a major need during the coronavirus pandemic.
Normally this warehouse near I-44 in north Springfield is used to send out thousands of medical supplies every day to Mercy health facilities all over the region. But now it's being used for something else.
"And that's literally the front line of defense to all our coworkers," said Sam Spencer, Mercy's Vice-President of Operations.
He's talking about plastic face shields which will cover the eyes and masks of caregivers, providing another layer of protection against germs. The shields are already being sent to hospitals across Mercy and shared with other area health care providers.
The workers in the warehouse are making 50,000 of the masks at an assembly line staffed by nurses, technicians and people from throughout the health care system who have been redeployed like "Rosie the Riveter" during World War II.
"Not one of these individuals was trained or came through a background of production line management," Spencer said.
Jeri Davis is loading up completed face shields as the final stop on the assembly line which doesn't have a lot in common with her normal job as an x-ray/lab technician.
"Not a thing," she said with a laugh.
But her reduced schedule at the lab of one-week-on and one-week-off led her to the warehouse assembly line.
" I do have PTO that I can use but this work's out so much better," Davis said. "It's something constructive I can do and keeps me busy."
In case you're wondering why an industry overtaxed with a health crisis has workers who are not needed at their regular jobs? I
"A lot of our elective work, operating rooms, radiology, imaging, ancillary services, those are areas that we have ramped down heavily," Spencer explained. "We haven't been laying off coworkers but they have not been able to work and they're using a paid furlough policy that keeps them employed. But better than that they're here."
Sean Collett is working here instead of getting paid furlough from his job in patient services.
"It gives me a chance to feel like I'm contributing something to the community and help them in some way," he said.
One way they're helping is innovation.
Thanks to health care workers knowing what health care workers prefer, the face masks have a number of improvements from air holes to prevent fogging to extra foam padding to make them more comfortable.
“It’s a very simple design, but we ran it through our infection prevention team and it’s actually superior to what we’d been buying,” Spencer said. “The other face shields had to be thrown away after use. These are able to be disinfected and used repeatedly.”
The design got input from a wide variety of co-workers.
“It’s been an amazing process,” Spencer said. “None of us are experts in this field, but the innovation that has come from our coworkers is incredible. For example, the foam piece that sits across the forehead is actually a foam insulation piece that Lowe’s and Home Depot donated. That idea came from a frontline coworker and this foam is easier to disinfect than what we had been using.”
SMC Packaging in Springfield also helped provide and cut plastic for the shields. With the community pitching in with supplies, the co-workers are taking all the components and rapidly assembling the masks. They’re getting their regular paychecks while doing alternate work.