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.

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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