Shuswap residents respond to health workers’ need for personal protective equipment

Shuswap North Okanagan Division of Family Practice appeals to public for donations

While it may be a bit drab compared to her usual work, Keren Huyter has embraced the task of making white gowns for use by local health-care professionals.

Normally at this time of year, Huyter, of Salmon Arm’s Huyter House Sewing and Design, is focused on creating elaborate grad dresses and costumes for dance productions. However, with concerns around COVID-19, the need for such attire isn’t as pressing, or at least not as pressing as the request she recently received from friend Tracey Kirkman, executive director with the Shuswap North Okanagan Division of Family Practice. Kirkman commissioned Huyter to create 30 medical gowns – personal protective equipment (PPE) – for local clinics.

“A doctor brought me one of the gowns that they wear and I built a pattern off it,” said Huyter. “They want a tight weave and something that’s going to launder well at high temperatures regularly.”

Huyter said the initial request for 30 gowns jumped to 100, but there currently isn’t enough material available in town to make them.

“I would need about 130 metres (of material) to do 70 more gowns,” said Huyter.

As the Observer was interviewing Huyter Wednesday morning, March 25, Kirkman was in Kelowna picking up a PPE donation. With increasing COVID-19 activity and related preparations by Canada’s medical system, there’s a shortage of such equipment. Subsequently, the Shuswap North Okanagan Division of Family Practice has issued an appeal to the public desperately needed PPE including gowns, N95 respirators, masks, eye protection and alcohol-based hand rub.

“What we are doing is just trying to have a more co-ordinated approach and to make sure that the stuff lands where it’s needed, especially the PPE,” said Kirkman, noting the demand grows daily.

“The latest update from Interior Health… any frontline health workers having direct patient care in acute case settings and any clinical and long-term care settings… have to wear a surgical mask,” said Kirkman. “That was not the situation yesterday.”

“I think many people were taking that precaution anyway, especially the health care works, but that is going to exacerbate that demand because now every clinical worker has to have a mask,” she said.

As it happens, several Shuswap residents are already making masks on a volunteer basis to support the needs of healthcare workers.

Tracy Lemieux of Blind Bay said she got started after receiving a request from a relative who works at the hospital in Kamloops.

“Out of the blue she texts me and asks if I could make some… they really need them,” explained Lemieux. “She said they’re not for the virus… those ones are locked up. So they’re doing the regular care without masks.”

After mentioning the project on different Facebook pages, Lemieux said she’d recieved both assistance and material – except elastic.

“If there is a supply needed it would be elastic,” said Lemieux, who is grateful for the distraction of mask making. “This is good, this is making me feel happy; this whole thing stresses me out and I like to do things for the community.”

Read more: Salmon Arm retailers press plastic bags back into service

Read more: High demand for plexiglass as Salmon Arm businesses seek to protect public, staff

Salmon Arm resident Lynn Fletcher has also been producing masks. But she said she would like to see some co-ordination and direction of volunteer efforts so that she knows what’s being produced can and will be used. “It would be great if Interior Health or Shuswap General or whomever had somebody to co-ordinate a community response, so that if, for example the Shuswap hospital thought the highest and best use of our time for people with sewing machines would be to make a gown or whatever, they could mobilize the people in the community to make what they want,” said Fletcher.

Kirkman says the Shuswap North Okanagan Division of Family Practice is doing just that, and she asked that individuals seeking to help contact the organization at sno@divisionsbc.ca.

“The community spirit really comes to the forefront in times of crisis and this is no exception,” said Kirkman. “We have all these wonderful people who want to step up and help, and everybody wants to do something… everybody feels a calling to help and that is just wonderful to see.”

Kirkman said her priority focus right now is to provide PPE to clinics and physicians in the North-Okanagan Shuswap.

When she’s done her work supporting the frontline of health care, Huyter said there are grad dresses still be made.

“There’s no grad but the girls still want their dresses so they can do pictures later – but there’s no rush,” said Huyter.

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