Hunter Mottell, director of manufacturing operations at mattress manufacturer Sleep Number’s Irmo plant, was, like a lot of people, feeling a little helpless in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, a four-organization partnership provided the facility with a way to help.
The effort began with a call for help from the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance, of which Sleep Number is a member, seeking personal protective equipment.
“We responded with, we don’t really have a lot of PPE to donate, but what we do have is the ability to cut and sew,” Mottell said. “So if you need any help with that, if you hear of any needs that could be out there, let us know. We’re here to help.”
Around the same time, the S.C. Hospital Association became aware that some of its members had inventory of N95-grade surgical masks that had expired, with their elastic bands degrading, Mottell said. That organization found an elastic supplier, Phenix Engineered Textiles in Landrum, but that company had no way to attach the elastic to the masks.
That’s where Sleep Number came in.
The Irmo plant phased the elastic work into its normal five-day-a-week, two-shift operations, with the goal of suppling three S.C. hospitals with masks.
“Unfortunately, I’ve only got limited capacity of the machines that are available that can do this work,” Mottell said. “There’s a special type of machine that we need to do this work. I’ve got 13 of those that I can run. We’re running those as often as we possibly can.”
Mottell expected masks to have been shipped by this week to Prisma Health Tuomey in Sumter, MUSC Health Florence Medical Center and Prisma Health Richland Hospital.
“It was really four organizations working together to identify the need, offer the help and then have the supplies and the skills to pull this off,” Mottell said.
Several other companies in Richland County are also contributing to the fight COVID-19. The Ritedose Corp., a pharmaceutical company which makes drugs to treat respiratory illnesses, has increased production and began making hand sanitizer, according to a news release from Richland County. The company has donated about 1,500 bottles of sanitizer to medical facilities.
Jushi USA, a fiberglass product manufacturer, donated 5,000 surgical masks and 1,100 gloves to the S.C. Emergency Management Division, according to the release, while Integrated Micro-Chromatography Systems, a biotech manufacturer based in Irmo, has produced nearly 150 liters of hand sanitizer for local healthcare systems.
Peralta Woodworks is manufacturing intubation boxes designed to shield medical staff treating COVID-19 patients. The boxes, which are not FDA-approved, fit over the head and shoulders of a patient being intubated, according to Peralta’s website. It can be sanitized for reuse.
Sleep Number’s Mottell said that the Irmo plant, which has been operational through the COVID-19 crisis, has not added any hours to its regular production schedule but has been able to utilize unused capacity to repair the masks.
While the repairs are helping to meet a physical need, Mottell said the process is also providing a mental boost.
“You find out, hey, I can do something to help. It almost changes your mindset,” he said. “I’m actually helping fight this thing, not a victim of it. The team takes pride in the fact that we’re actually helping in a situation where you didn’t think you could do anything to help other than follow CDC guidelines and do all the things that we know are smart things to do right now. We’re actually making a meaningful impact.”