The manufacturer, which specializes in custom thermoforming, is making plastic face shields and acrylic intubation boxes.
“We all just have to do our part in this,” says Pia Kumar, co-owner and chief strategy officer at Universal Plastics.
Universal Plastics Group has been deemed an essential business by the commonwealth, as it makes medical products, including laboratory diagnostic equipment that the state Department of Public Health uses to test for COVID-19, as well as sharps containers, “critical things we have to continue to supply to hospitals,” Kumar explains.
However, in addition to those existing product lines, Kumar, who runs the company with her husband, Jay, and her team wanted to do something more. She credits Peter Crowell, chief operating officer, and Jim Purcell, engineering manager, who began brainstorming with the engineering staff.
“We had been reading about the dire need at not only hospitals, but nursing homes and elder care homes, and it just blew our minds of the breadth and depth of how much need there was,” Kumar says. “We thought what could we make with the materials we had and have the tools for?”
The two ideas that came out of those sessions were the face shields and the intubation boxes.
“Our people are really, really behind this effort,” Kumar says. The employees want to help others, and these new projects have given them a sense of purpose.
Kumar credits engineer Paul D’Angelo with coming up with the face shield idea.
The intubation boxes were developed by a doctor in Taiwan in response to Covid-19, and Kumar says the team at Universal Plastics adapted the design after talks with anesthesiologists from all over the country, who reached out to the company about the need for these boxes.
The company started producing the face shields earlier this month and are manufacturing 1,000 a day. The reusable face shields are made from recycled plastic that the company had in-house. They cover the entire face and “are easy to wipe off,” Kumar explains.
They have an adjustable strap and a plastic band that prevents fogging.
Universal Plastics is giving the shields to employees and local hospitals and nursing homes in each community they do business.
They also are looking into getting the shields to fast-food workers and retail employees, another population in need of protective gear, she adds. This is part of the company’s focus to try and elevate women, who often work in these lower-wage industries, Kumar explains.
Universal Plastics employees can wear the shields at work or home or give them to family members in the health care field or who are high-risk or compromised. Springfield-based Behavioral Health Network also is using them for its employees.
“Next to an N95 respirator, face shields are the most important tool any healthcare worker can have to protect themselves. Not gloves, not gowns, but face shields … Up until last week our folks had to rely on safety glasses which only offer about 70 percent protection. We have staff who are carrying for ill clients in 24/7 resident programs. Now these staff are much better protected and for that your team has our gratitude and admiration,” Michael Kelliher, vice president of human resources at Behavioral Health Network, posted on Universal Plastics’ website.
The intubation box, which Universal Plastics is calling the InTuBox, is a clear acrylic box that is placed over a patient’s head and chest during the intubation process to protect healthcare workers and prevent the spread of infection. The box has two holes that the doctor can place their arms inside to access the patient and intubate them.
Universal Plastics began producing them at the end of March, and they became available last week. “We have hospitals calling us and putting in orders,” Kumar says.
The boxes, being sold at cost, will not be as “high volume” as the face shields, according to Kumar.
“We just want to cover our costs. We just want to keep our employees busy and do some good,” Kumar says.
The company has approximately 400 employees across its five facilities, including 100 in Holyoke, where the shields and intubation boxes are made.
In addition to medical products, Universal also makes aerospace and industrial items. However, as the aerospace industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, slowing demand, Universal is prioritizing its medical product line, Kumar said.