Podcast: Companies adapting amid COVID-19

On this edition of Even Better Western Mass, Dave Madsen talks with the Chief Strategic Officer of a Holyoke company, Universal Plastics, that has shifted production to make masks for health care workers.

Covid 19 Intubation / Aerosol Box – “InTuBox” at Universal Plastics

Clear acrylic box mounted on patient during the intubation process to protect healthcare workers and mitigate the spread of infection.

Covid 19 Intubation / Aerosol Box – “InTuBox” at Universal Plastics

  • Protect medical staff during the intubation process
  • Reduce the likelihood of spreading infection
  • Made of durable clear acrylic
  • Safe to sanitize after each use with common antiseptic cleaners
  • Manufactured in Holyoke, MA USA
  • Available and In Stock. Contact us below for details.

Click on the image to download the spec sheet.

Bassett Healthcare Network Thanks Universal Plastics for Donation

“Many, many thanks for your generous donation of 100 face shields to support Cobleskill Regional Hospital.

We are so grateful to you for recognizing the unprecedented demands COVID-19 has placed on our health-care providers these past several months. Your support is deeply appreciated and helps our doctors, nurses, and front-line staff know that the community is thinking of them as they provide care to our patients during the pandemic.”

Universal Plastics donates PPE to Latrobe first responders, Bethlen Communities

A Latrobe plastics manufacturer recently donated 100 plastic face shields to City of Latrobe first responders and Bethlen Communities, as the coronavirus pandemic spawned a need for personal protective equipment (PPE).

Universal Plastics, located at the Westmoreland Airpark in Unity Township, donated 75 face shields to Bethlen Communities in Ligonier, and 25 to Latrobe first responders.

The company is headquartered in Holyoke, Mass., where it produces about 1,000 face shields per day. Universal Plastics pivoted its production to PPE in mid-March as the pandemic ramped up.

The shields — which were distributed to Latrobe from the Holyoke plant — are made of plastic and include an adjustable strap to secure the shield, and a plastic band that prevents fogging.

“We are very thankful to have this donation here for the city,” Latrobe City Manager Michael Gray said.

The company’s Latrobe plant manufactures medical parts, and was deemed an essential business when many businesses statewide were ordered to temporarily close in March.

“We specialize in medical,” Nicole Stupka, marketing business analyst, said. “We wanted to utilize that experience for the better.”

The face shields are reusable and made from recycled material, Stupka says.

“We are in plastics, so we have the material here,” Stupka said. “It was something that was very easy to pivot in making.”

Beth Green works at Bethlen Communities, and her husband William Green is a quality control manager at Universal Plastics-Latrobe.

The former thanked Universal Plastics for their donation.

“Bethlen Communities is very thankful and appreciative,” she said. “The face shields will help keep the residents of Bethlen Home and Ligonier Gardens, our families that we visit with our home health and hospice, and staff safe.”

In a press release, Universal Plastics states that their goal is: “To give back to their local communities and protect those around them. That starts with their employees. Each employee was told to take one mask for themselves and additional masks for family members that work on the front lines.”

The company was founded by Jay and Pia Kumar eight years ago. They acquired the 150,000-square-foot Middlefield plant, formerly known as Sajar Plastics, in 2017.

“Our goal for manufacturing the face shields was to utilize our medical expertise for the good during this difficult time,” said Pia Kumar, co-owner and chief strategy officer. “We asked, what can we do? As a family-owned business, we value family, so what better way to support our employees and local communities than by providing them essential PPE.”

Universal Plastics-Latrobe is a custom extrusion blow molder which manufactures for medical, waste management, automotive, safety equipment, lawn and garden, recreational equipment and large capacity potable water bottles.

The Latrobe plant has about 100 employees, according to Stupka.

Read Full Article

Universal Plastics – Latrobe Donation to Bethlen Communities

Universal Plastics – Latrobe donated 75 face shields to Bethlen Communities. We received this wonderful thank you letter from them.

Universal Cited in Boston Globe on Shift to PPE Manufacturing

Universal Plastics has been lauded in a Boston Globe article on June 9  titled “Manufacturers provide lifelines during the pandemic, for their employees as well as front-line workers”.  Universal has been one of several Massachusetts manufacturers who have shifted manufacturing production to manufacture Personal Protective  Equipment to aid front line workers.

The article notes that “For too long, the manufacturing sector has shed jobs to lower-cost locations overseas. The pandemic, however, is underscoring the importance and the economic potential of making products here instead.”


Universal produces over 1,000 shields per day at its plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts Production started in mid-March, when the pandemic ramped up.

Universal has been selling the shields at cost – “We don’t want to make a profit,” said Pia Kumar, who with her husband Jay owns the company—to hospitals, nursing homes, elder care facilities and has also been donating shields to first responders.

To read the  article in the Boston Globe, click here

A copy of the article may be found here .

For more information on the line of medical face shields visit this page.


Universal Plastics – Middlefield Donates to Local First Responders and Medical Facility

Universal Plastics Pitching In to Produce Productive Gear During The Coronavirus Pandemic at the Rate of 1,000 Face Shields Per Day.

Left to Right: Brittany Sustar, Nursing Operations Manager, Julie Szitas, Chief Nursing Officer, Teresa Criblez, Human Resources, Nicole Stupka, Marketing, Candy Zwolinski, Inventory

The company, headquartered in Holyoke, Massachusetts, has pivoted its production to PPE during this difficult time. Universal Plastics produces about 1,000 face shields per day at its plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Production started in mid-March, when the pandemic ramped up.

Along with selling the shields at cost, Universal Plastics has been donating the masks to those in need, including nursing homes, hospitals and local first reponders.

The shields are made of plastic and include an adjustable strap to secure the shield and a plastic band that prevents fogging. The masks are reusable.

Universal Plastics – Middlefield primarily manufactures medical parts and was deemed an essential business early on.

Universal Plastics – Middlefield is an innovative facility specializing in injection molding, including gas assist molding, and structural foam molding to customers in the medical, laboratory & diagnostic fields. The facility manufactures parts for nurses’ carts, mammogram machines, covers, trays and panels for hospitals and exam rooms on a regular basis. We are very familiar with the medical industry and standards.

Left to Right: Captain Tony Yeropoli, Nicole Stupka, Marketing, Joe Danks

Universal Plastics – Middlefield donated 25 face shields to the Middlefield Fire Department and 75 to UH Geauga Medical Center.

“On behalf of all of our personnel, I’d like to say thank you to Universal Plastics for the donation of the face shields. As the COVID 19 crises began to unfold, healthcare and public safety agencies everywhere experienced supplier shortages of PPE. We consider ourselves fortunate to share working partnerships with companies such as Universal Plastics. Thanks to the company’s production ability and generosity, our personnel have one more tool available to protect ourselves during the performance of our duties.” – Captain Tony Yeropoli, Middlefield Fire Department

A Universal Plastics – Middlefield employee, Candy Zwolinski, has family that works at UH Geauga Medical Center, and was happy to assist with the donation.

Universal Plastics is headquartered in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and operates five factories in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The company was founded by Jay and Pia Kumar eight years ago. They acquired the 150,000-square-foot Middlefield plant, formerly known as Sajar Plastics, in 2017.

As a company, we want to give back to our local communities and protect those around us. That starts with our employees. Each employee was told to take one mask for themselves and additional masks for family members that work on the front lines.

“Our goal for manufacturing the face shields was to utilize our medical expertise for the good during this difficult time. We asked, what can we do? As a family owned business, we value family, so what better way to support our employees and local communities than by providing them essential PPE”. – Pia Kumar, co-owner and chief strategy officer at Universal Plastics

“Donating is a way of boosting morale at our facilities and to showcase how much of a difference our employees make manufacturing and assembling essential medical parts.” – Nicole Stupka, leads all Marketing efforts at Universal Plastics.

Full Article

Q&A With Senator Eric Lessor & Pia Kumar On PPE Production

Senator Eric Lesser held a live-streamed conversation with Pia Sareen Kumar, co-owner and chief strategy officer of Universal Plastics Corporation on personal protective equipment, manufacturing, and economic recovery during the #coronavirus #outbreak. Take a listen!


Living in Abundance

This is a time of scarcity. Most businesses have too few sales. The companies that have increased demand are experiencing labor shortages, or health and safety challenges. Risk mitigation, cost cutting, and scenario planning are forefront on the minds of leadership teams everywhere.

And that is why now is a time when it’s absolutely critical to run your brand strategy with an abundance mindset.

Bear with me while I digress.

My dad is an Episcopal priest. I grew up in a family that spoke a language of abundance and generosity. We said (well, actually sang) grace at every meal, sometimes to my embarrassment when I had friends over for dinner. We gave of our “time, talent, and treasure.” We volunteered serving meals at the local soup kitchen, a great reminder that not everyone has the security of a hot meal every day. Who we were, what we had, was valued, no matter how meager or imperfect. The promise of short-term gain was never an acceptable excuse to compromise your values.

The funny thing is, I’m actually finding this mindset, this faith, whatever you want to call it, to be a smart brand strategy right now.

I have seen a number of companies look at their operations and see abundance in very effective ways. For example, my friend’s company, Universal Plastics, has been making face shields and intubation boxes, as a way to support frontline workers, and also to raise team morale at a time when everyone is feeling stressed and isolated.

“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,” said Pia Kumar, co-owner and chief strategy officer. “We thought, ‘What could we make with the materials we had and have the tools for?’”

This is an abundance mindset. Staying true to their core competency as a custom plastic products manufacturer, they have found a way to amplify that strength. And as a company that truly cares about their workforce and the community, they have found a way to amplify those values, too. They have resisted making these a profit center (which I’m sure might have been tempting as orders rolled in) and are instead selling them at cost.

Our client, Maine Community Bank, kept running brand ads that we had created pre-COVID while others ramped up their ads with conoravirus jargon.

This is an abundance mindset. Their values, their message of stability and strength, and their pride in their community hadn’t changed because of the virus. Their message stayed relevant and authentic even as the world around them changed, so they could steer clear of messaging that sounded opportunistic or hollow. Who they had always been was who they still were now.

I have also found myself with inquiries for work that is slightly outside our core capabilities of brand strategy. It’s probably work that we could do, but it’s not necessarily work that we would do better than other companies, and it’s not our expertise. The temptation to say yes to work like that is real. In a time like this, can I really afford to turn down work?

But I did. I passed a referral on to experts in my network who could more effectively serve that client than I could. There would be other opportunities. Underserving a new client wouldn’t do either of us any good in the long run.

This is an abundance mindset. Staying true to our expertise is more important when times are tough than it is when the economy is booming. If you won’t experience some pain for your core values, are they really your core values?

This is a time when you hear the word “pivot” constantly. But right now, you need to be the judge of what is a pivot that is taking you closer to your value proposition, closer to your long-term goals, and what is a distraction that is actually leading you further away.

It’s tough, but knowing when to say yes and when to say no is a test that every brand is going to have to go through over the next weeks and months.

Approaching these tests, these opportunities and challenges, with a sense of abundance will help you know which path to follow.

Shout Out from a Social Distance to Universal Plastics

Universal Plastics is a custom plastic products manufacturer with expertise in a range of processes, including custom thermoforming, injection molding, and custom blow molding for the medical, aerospace, transportation, and general industrial markets. Starting in 2020, Mayfield Plastics, Premium Plastic Solutions, Sajar Plastics, and Universal Plastics have come together under one name – Universal Plastics. Two locations are in Massachusetts, one in Holyoke that is also corporate headquarters and one in Sutton. All five sites have been given ‘essential services’ status.

Shout Out from a Social Distance to Universal PlasticsUniversal Plastics is manufacturing medical face shields (1000/day), intubation/aerosol boxes, and patient belongings trays for COVID-19. That is great news as we all do our part to move through this pandemic. It’s also great news for their regular customers, employees, and supply chain. The PPE products are new to Universal Plastics, developed just for this purpose, in direct response to need. It usually is a 4 to 6-week process from drawings to prototypes, yet Universal Plastics turned this around in a week. They were able to do so partly because they do a lot of work in medical parts and so have the background for it.

Chief Strategy Officer Pia Kumar states, “We’re not looking to turn a profit here — we’re selling these items at cost and making some donations. We are donating to local cities and organizations based on need, starting with the communities we are located in.  We’re just trying to keep ourselves busy and do the right thing.”

Universal Plastics has been following all the necessary and recommended protocols from government agencies to prevent the spread of the virus to their employees and to the wider community while maintaining their commitment to providing their customers with high quality parts and exceptional customer service. Universal Plastics employees all got face shields first. If anyone in their family was in health care or was in a nursing home, they got one, too.

“There are challenges to managing an essential workforce,” Pia continues. “We’re working hard to keep everyone safe and do more than the CDC requires. It takes quite a bit to do all the research regarding proper operational procedures. For example, there is a right way and wrong way to put on gloves. Once you find the proper procedure, then it must be shared and employees trained. With any new procedure, they must also be enforced. We have lots of visuals to help with this entire process. They are solid reminders for everyone throughout our facilities. Everyone has a temperature check when they come in to start their workday. Work stations have been set up using social distancing, and we have created all the documentation about procedures that are needed. Our employees get weekly emails with updates and changes.”

Pia adds, “Our employees here are making magic. For example, Tooling Department Team Leader Gerry Durand came up with a new way to provide additional hand washing for COVID-19. It’s a large water cooler jug with a spigot and a drum underneath it to catch the used water. This allows us to have more handwashing stations throughout our facilities.”

Pia closes saying, “The whole company has really gotten behind the entire COVID-19 effort. It might sound funny, but I actually feel grateful and optimistic. Business has suffered, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Our employees are really stepping up to meet this challenge and it’s so inspiring. It will stand us well into the future.”

Go to www.universalplastics.com to learn more about the company and all that they are doing.
Governor Baker gives Universal Plastics a shout out for pivoting to PPE.

We applaud and are thankful for Universal Plastics for all their efforts to innovate and provide PPE, and to take good care of their family of employees during these very challenging times.

Full Article

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker Credits Universal Plastics

View Full Video Here.

Mayor Sarno thanks Universal Plastics for generously donating 100 face shields to the Springfield Police and Fire Departments and frontline personnel.

Universal gives shields to CRH

Universal Plastics is pitching in to produce productive gear during the coronavirus pandemic.

The plastics company switched much of its production to make face shields, and although the shields aren’t being made at Universal’s Howes Cave plant, the former Kintz Plastics facility bought by Universal in 2018, will be a distribution point.

Universal produces about 1,000 shields per day at its plant in Holyoke, Massachusetts, said Pia Kuma, who with her husband Jay owns the company. Production started in mid-March, when the pandemic ramped up.

“We asked, What can we do?” Ms. Kumar said, adding that Universal already produced many plastics for the medical field.

Universal has been selling the shields at cost – “We don’t want to make a profit,” Ms. Kumar said—to hospitals, nursing homes, elder care facilities and has also been donating shields to first responders.

Universal donated 100 shields to Cobleskill Regional Hospital this week.

Knowing they could help during the pandemic was a morale boost for Universal employees, Ms. Kumar said.

“They’ve really rallied around this:, she added. “We had people from the front office helping with assembly. What they’re doing is important.”

Made of medical-grade plastic, a shield covers the face, has a small bag at the bottom to keep from fogging and has a bungee cord in back to keep it in place. The shields are reusable

“One should get you through the pandemic,” Ms. Kumar said.

Shields aren’t Universal’s only contribution to dealing with the pandemic. In its medical production, the company is also making parts for lab diagnostic machines that analyze virus samples and give test results.

“We’ve really been prioritizing out medical work.” Ms. Kumar said.

While Universal has been making medical gear all along, the shields are relatively a new project.

Shields sell for $6 apiece, or for an order of 300 or more, $5 apiece. Universal isn’t set up to sell shields at its Howes Cave plant, Ms. Kumar said, but will do so.

“If people come to us, we will find a way to make it happen.” She said.

Full Article Here

Women’s Fund Helps Universal Plastics Disseminate Masks

Our response to COVID-19 has been informed by you, our community.

Staying connected to you is our top priority. We care about the women and girls in Western MA and have made an effort to stay connected while physically apart.

Our responsive work:

Our CEO, Donna Haghighat, has joined the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’ COVID-19 Response Team as an ambassador, bringing a gender and racial lens to the relief effort in Western MA.

We have been convening the service providers of Western MA who address domestic violence to collaborate on how to combat the rise in domestic violence in this time of isolation.

Using our voice to bring attention to the vulnerability of low wage workersand bring attention to the impact of the coronavirus on women.

We connected Pioneer Valley Workers Center with Universal Plastics to disseminate protective masks to local essential workers. Thank you to both organizations for their generosity and commitment to protecting community members.

Pia Kumar of Universal Plastics and former board member of the Fund, reached out to Donna, Women’s Fund CEO, after reading Donna’s opinion piece, “Who gets protection on the pandemic frontlines?” Pia was seeking to reach essential workers who would otherwise go unprotected in their everyday work.

Donna connected Pia with Reverend Sawyer who shared her appreciation in the effort to support all those working diligently in the community. Reverend Sawyer shares, “we are so grateful to Universal Plastics for the donation of heavy-duty protective face shields, and to the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts for thinking of our front-line worker members to receive them. We pass the masks out at our weekly food distributions in Springfield and Northampton. Farmworkers are especially grateful for them–many tell us that they do not currently receive protection from Covid-19 at their jobs on local vegetable farms, plant nurseries, and tobacco fields. Together we are protecting our community and our frontline workers.”

One of the workers and leaders of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center shared a photo of her wearing the mask and a kind quote for all to keep with them in their day-to-day during the pandemic.

Universal Plastics of Holyoke pivots to make face shields, intubation boxes for pandemic needs

HOLYOKE — Universal Plastics is doing its part in the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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.

Universal Plastics face shield
Universal Plastics in Holyoke is putting its talents together to assist in the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, manufacturing InTuBoxes and shields to be used by health care workers and selling them at costs to hospitals and health care facilities.Third Party submitted

“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.

Universal Plastics InTuBox
Universal Plastics in Holyoke is putting its talents together to assist in the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, manufacturing InTuBoxes and shields to be used by health care workers and selling them at costs to hospitals and health care facilities.Third Party submitted

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.

Read full article here.

Universal Plastics shifts to face shields, intubation boxes as aerospace, elective
surgeries decline

Universal Plastics – Albany is making 1,000 face shields a day for hospitals, nursing
homes and fast-food workers to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

Engineers at the Howes Cave company also have begun producing acrylic intubation
boxes to protect physicians and health care workers from infection while they connect
coronavirus patients to ventilators.

The plastics manufacturer shifted production at its Schoharie County factory last month
as demand for products used in aerospace and elective surgeries started to decline.
“We decided to pivot because we just aren’t making any interior parts for the airlines
right now,” said Pia Kumar, co-owner and chief strategy officer.

Universal Plastics is headquartered in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and operates five
factories in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The company was
founded by Kumar and her husband, Jay Kumar, eight years ago. They acquired the
100,000-square-foot Schoharie County plant, formerly known as Kintz Plastics, in May

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kumars spent two years growing the New York site
by increasing production, installing new equipment and moving excess work from a
plant in Massachusetts. The couple also expanded the payroll from 80 to 100 workers
during that time. The companywide payroll is about 400.

Revenue in Schoharie County had grown over the past two years until orders began a
sharp decline as the pandemic forced the state to order many companies and
employees to stay home.

Aerospace business has declined about 50% since then and medical business has
decreased by 15% to 20%, Pia Kumar said. But she expects the company’s traditional
medical business will pick back up as soon as hospitals begin performing more elective

Universal Plastics – Albany makes plastic covers for medical imaging and diagnostic lab
equipment in addition to interior parts for airplanes and passenger rail cars.

As orders in its main business began to decline, the company’s engineering and
management team decided to shift to protective gear to help address a shortage as the
virus spread across the country.

Many of the face shields have been donated. And the intubation boxes are being sold at

“It’s a way to keep our people busy,” Kumar said.

It also has given employees a morale boost to know they are helping during a time of
crisis, she said.

To help address a decline in orders, the company has cut spending on inventory and
other expenses, while managing to avoid reductions on labor and benefits, Kumar said.
The company applied for funding through the federal Paycheck Protection Program but
has not yet been able to get any assistance.

There has been strong demand for face shields and intubation boxes from more than 20
hospitals, plus nursing homes and elder care centers, Kumar said. The company also
has donated face shields to some fast-food restaurants through the help of some
nonprofit organizations. Kumar would like to find other fast-food companies who are
looking for shields.

Read Full Story Here

Plastics Company Steps Up With COVID-19-Related Products For Healthcare Workers

It’s called an ‘intubation box,’ or an ‘InTuBox,’ to be more specific.

As that name suggests, this is a box that helps shield healthcare workers while they are intubating a patient, thus helping reduce the likelihood of spreading infection.
Pia Kumar says the product was conceptualized by an anesthesiologist in Taiwan, and in what would still be considered limited use, it has proven successful in doing what it was designed to do. And now, the company she serves as president, Universal Plastics in Holyoke, will start to produce them for healthcare providers, with the first boxes due to roll out of the plant on Whiting Farms Road in Holyoke early next week.

Production of the boxes is part of the company’s efforts — which mirror those of manufacturers across the region and, indeed, across the country — to adjust and retool for what many are calling a ‘wartime’ economy, while helping a healthcare sector desperate for essential equipment.

Indeed, in addition to the intubation boxes, the company is also producing face shields that can be used by those in healthcare industry and other sectors as well. Even individuals with compromised immune systems can use them at a time when everyone is trying to reduce their exposure to the dangerous virus.

Production of those shields commenced recently, and the company is on pace to produce roughly 1,000 of them per day, said Kumar, adding that these efforts were inspired by need, and the company’s desire to help meet it.

In a way, the story of how Universal has launched these initiatives — and how it is carrying out this specific mission — is a microcosm of the many-tentacled saga of COVID-19, touching almost every aspect of the pandemic, from the economic impact to the plight of the healthcare community as it girds for days that will be even worse than they are now, to the manner in which companies and individuals are going above and beyond.

Let’s start with the economic impact. Universal, like most every company in every sector, has been hard hit by the pandemic. Some of its major customers are in aerospace, one of the hardest-hit sectors, and many of its products — from seat backs to tray tables to arm rests — wind up in commercial airliners.

“It’s been very tough … we have a good company and a great workforce, and we’ll rebound from this, but this is certainly a very difficult time,” she explained. “Our number-one business is aerospace and airline interiors, and I don’t have to tell you how that’s doing these days, so our work has really slowed down.”

So the company was looking for ways to keep people employed and also contribute to what in many ways has become a war effort, said Kumar, adding that the company already produces a number of products for the healthcare industry — from diagnostic testing equipment to containers for sharp instruments — and has been hard-pressed by those customers to keep producing them in this time of great need.

“We were seeing how this situation was getting worse and how there was a shortage of PPE [personal protective equipment], and we thought about what we could make in-house that we could give to hospitals and other healthcare provides locally and across the country,” she told BusinessWest, adding that two items that quickly emerged were face shields and the intubation boxes.

With the former, it’s a relatively simple product and one that it is certainly in demand. “We offered it around, and we’re getting a lot of interest from a lot of hospitals,” said Kumar. “That’s because these are reusable, they’re durable, and they can used by a number of people.”

She listed doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and workers in nursing homes, among others in the healthcare profession, and even individuals going to the grocery store — although those in healthcare are the company’s first priority.

As for the intubation boxes … as information about the product, which was conceptualized as the COVID-19 virus started its spread, started to filter into the healthcare community, some doctors approached Universal with inquiries about whether it could produce the item.

“It really started just last week,” she explained. “Baystate Medical Center reached out, as did a hospital in Miami, and we just thought the product was practical and made a good deal of sense.”

The company created a prototype and is slated to begin production on April 6, she went on, adding that some orders have been placed for a few hospitals in other markets, and Baystate is currently testing the product.

But producing these items will pose some challenges, said Kumar, noting that many employees at Universal, fearful of the spread of the virus, have not been coming to work.

But production of the face shields and the intubation boxes proceeds as remaining employees press on, assisted by some front-office workers who have stepped into the breach.

“People have rallied behind this PPE effort with the face shield and the intubation boxes,” she told BusinessWest. “Some of the people in our front office are helping with the assembly of these face shields — everyone is pitching in, rallying behind this, and coming together.

“We’re not looking to turn a profit here — we’re selling these items at cost,” she said in conclusion. “We’re just trying to keep ourselves busy and do a little good if we can.”

From all appearances, she and her staff are succeeding with both missions.

Full article: https://businesswest.com/blog/plastics-company-steps-up-with-covid-19-related-products-for-healthcare-workers/ 

Recent New England Journal of Medicine Article Describing Advantages of Intubation / Aerosol Boxes

Clinicians with inadequate access to standard personal protective equipment (PPE) have been compelled to improvise protective barrier enclosures for use during endotracheal intubation. We describe one such barrier that is easily fabricated and may help protect clinicians during this procedure. The barrier studied was an “aerosol box,” which consists of a transparent plastic cube designed to cover a patient’s head and that incorporates two circular ports through which the clinician’s hands are passed to perform the airway procedure.

In a simulation, a laryngoscopist, attired in standard PPE, took position at the head of an airway mannequin. To approximate a forceful cough and generate a spread of droplets and aerosols, a small latex balloon containing 10 ml of fluorescent dye was placed in the hypopharynx of the mannequin. The balloon was inflated with compressed oxygen that was run through tubing inside the mannequin until the balloon burst; the explosion of the balloon represented a crude simulation of a cough. We repeated the experiment without and with the aerosol box, and after each simulation, we illuminated the scene with ultraviolet light to visualize the spreading of the dye.

Fluorescent Dye Expelled from a Simulated Patient Cough That Ended Up on the Laryngoscopist.
With the use of PPE only, dye was found on the laryngoscopist’s gown, gloves, face mask, eye shield, hair, neck, ears, and shoes. Contamination of the floor occurred within approximately 1 m from the head of the bed and also on a monitor located more than 2 m away. When we repeated the experiment with the aerosol box, the simulated cough resulted in contamination of only the inner surface of the box and the laryngoscopist’s gloves and gowned forearms. Examination of the laryngoscopist and the room with ultraviolet light showed no macroscopic contamination outside the box.

Our simulation method, although pragmatic, was not validated for the projectile direction, speed, or turbulence of a true cough, nor did it match the particle-size distribution. Droplets were overproduced as compared with aerosols. Our method of detection could not identify very small quantities of material that could be infectious. Nevertheless, we suggest that our ad hoc barrier enclosure provided a modicum of additional protection and could be considered to be an adjunct to standard PPE. A caveat: we found that the box restricted hand movement and would require training before use in the treatment of patients. Operators should be ready to abandon use of the box should airway management prove difficult.

Full article at https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2007589

Credit to the developer Dr. Hsien Yung Lai with support from Urban Plough Furniture.

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