South Alabama manufacturers rally to support local health care amid COVID-19 pandemic

South Alabama manufacturers rally to support local health care amid COVID-19 pandemic
Dr. Benjamin Estrada, pediatric infectious disease specialist with USA Health, assistant dean for educational strategies and faculty development; professor and vice chair of Pediatrics at the USA College of Medicine, holds bags of 3D printed masks with representatives of Airbus. (contributed)

A team of south Alabama’s largest industrial employers has adjusted manufacturing efforts from delivering global goods to producing local medical supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global manufacturing companies with Mobile operations – Austal USA, Airbus and AM/NS Calvert – diverted part of their core manufacturing operations to produce medical supplies for hospitals, health care centers and first responders.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce pulled together the area’s largest manufacturing employers, along with the University of South Alabama, on a weekly conference call where they could check in and share best practices – a move that established the industry consortium.

University of South Alabama Assistant Vice President for Research Mathew Reichert was the technical mastermind behind the effort to use three-dimensional printers to create personal protective equipment (PPE) aimed at avoiding a shortage as the state prepared for a wave of cases.

Austal USA, the fifth-largest shipbuilder in the U.S., builds Independence-variant littoral combat ship and expeditionary fast transport ships for the U.S. Navy. The company used their 3D printers to produce hundreds of surgical mask tension-relief straps and reusable masks for hospitals, including University of South Alabama Health centers.

Craig Savage, director of communications and external affairs at Austal USA in Mobile, hands a box of 3D printed tensioners to Dr. Benjamin Estrada, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with USA Health and professor and vice chair of Pediatrics at the USA College of Medicine. (contributed)

Airbus, the world’s largest aerospace manufacturer, assembles the popular A320 and A220 aircraft in Mobile. The company shifted 3D printing efforts and increased its abilities by partnering with the University of South Alabama, Coastal Community College, community volunteers and Flight Works Alabama to produce more than 500 reusable face masks and hundreds of tension-relief straps.

AM/NS Calvert, recognized as one of the most advanced steel finishing facilities in the world and complementary to ArcelorMittal and Nippon Steel Corporation’s existing portfolio, provided 500 face shields and 3D-printed tension-relief straps for doctors, nurses and medical professionals.

AM/NS Calvert donated face shields and relief straps to USA Health and other health professionals in the Mobile area. (contributed)

Wendy Bedsole, executive director of the Medical Society of Mobile County, has since March spearheaded efforts to support regional health care.

“It was clear our local health care facilities and professionals were about to encounter an unprecedented medical event,” Bedsole said. “As the hospitals and health care centers were taking inventory and preparing their facilities, a primary need was face masks and shields. We reached out to our business community to ask for any excess equipment. The response was overwhelming.

“Through the efforts of companies like Austal, Airbus, AM/NS Calvert, the Mobile Area Chamber and more, we were able to address the needs of not only our local hospitals, but hundreds of other local health care providers desperately in need of supplies,” Bedsole said.

David Rodgers, vice president of Economic Development at the Mobile Area Chamber, said the support and response of the business community “has been terrific, from our largest manufacturers down to small business. As the economy continues to reopen, we will continue to be in tune with what our health care workers tell us they need.”

On its website, the chamber continues to update its list of member businesses providing PPE and products. The chamber encourages other businesses that would like to help to email [email protected]

Bedsole offered advice to the community going forward.

“We encourage the citizens of Mobile to remain vigilant as our medical care system continues to provide excellent care; companies can continue to operate; and we can all contribute to the full recovery of our great city.”

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