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Houlton hospital staff, community pitch in to make extra masks and gowns

HOULTON, Maine — Across the country, particularly areas that have been hard-hit by the coronavirus, some doctors and hospitals fret over shortages of protective gear like hospital masks and gowns. 

For Houlton Regional Hospital, that problem thankfully has yet to come up. But that has not stopped hospital officials from taking every effort to ensure their supplies remain amply stocked. 

While the hospital continues to test for cases of COVID-19, there have yet to be any positive cases at the hospital, or Aroostook County, as of Friday, March 27. This has allowed the hospital to take preparatory measures in case they do have any positive matches. 

And those efforts include making their own masks and gowns. 

“Our stock of isolation gowns were running low,” said Lisa Perfitt, the HR specialist at the hospital, who also makes quilts in her spare time. She, along with other hospital staff with knowledge of sewing, have been hard at work to create a new reserve inventory for the hospital. 

“We’ve spent the last two days making about 40 gowns and it’s been a wonderful team effort,” she said.

The gowns are made from a patchwork of different colored fabrics from several staff members’ own personal collections. There have also been donations from local groups such as the Houlton-based Friends and Needle Quilt Guild and the local branch of the discount store Marden’s Surplus and Salvage, which has donated some of its fabric supply to aid in the efforts. 

The staff refer to the gowns as “A gown of many colors”, a reference to the Dolly Parton song, “A Coat of Many Colors.”

“There is very little wasted fabric,” said Perfitt. “What we cut out, we’re going to use to make masks.”

While there is no shortage of masks at the hospital, Perfitt said they are still planning on creating about 500 extra masks on hand. The masks have a wide array of different patterns, with some including logos such as Superman and Star Wars.

Though the Center for Disease Control & Prevention cautions against homemade masks being used by medical professionals, except in cases where no Food and Drug Administration-approved masks are available, Houlton Regional Hospital infection preventionist Ellen Bartlett said the masks will only be used in a proper manner and following CDC guidelines. 

“Any way the masks will be utilized will be safe,” said Bartlett. “Ultimately, when we have exhausted every other option, then we will bring out these reserve masks”

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