by Sonya Kullmann
Mary McCutcheon isn’t used to working on an assembly line.
A registered nurse for Mercy for 31 years, she usually works in endoscopy. She places IVs, wakes patients from conscious sedation and assists with procedures. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, those tests were temporarily suspended, and McCutcheon wasn’t sure what to do.
“My husband is immune-compromised,” she explained. “So temporarily moving to a position in the hospital wasn’t a good fit for me. I took a week off initially, but I had some internal turmoil because I felt like I needed to be doing something to help.”
McCutcheon got her opportunity to help on Mercy’s newly-created assembly line, located inside its Consolidated Services Center warehouse in Springfield, Missouri. The new team has a goal of assembling 50,000 new plastic face shields, which will cover the eyes and masks of caregivers, providing another layer of protection against germs. The shields are already being sent to hospitals across Mercy and shared with other area health care providers.
“It’s a very simple design, but we ran it through our infection prevention team and it’s actually superior to what we’d been buying,” said Sam Spencer, vice president of Operations for Mercy Springfield. “The other face shields had to be thrown away after use. These are able to be disinfected and used repeatedly.”
The design got input from a wide variety of co-workers. “It’s been an amazing process,” Spencer said. “None of us are experts in this field, but the innovation that has come from our co-workers is incredible. For example, the foam piece that sits across the forehead is actually a foam insulation piece that Lowe’s and Home Depot donated. That idea came from a frontline co-worker and this foam is easier to disinfect than what we had been using.”
SMC Packaging in Springfield also helped provide and cut plastic for the shields. With the community pitching in with supplies, the co-workers are taking all the components and rapidly assembling the masks. They’re getting their regular paychecks while doing alternate work.
Tonya Tonche is usually a physical therapy assistant at Mercy Orthopedic Hospital Springfield. She volunteered to work on the assembly line when her regular work slowed. “This is a blessing for me and my family,” she said. “I’m blessed I don’t have to use my paid vacation to have money and I’m blessed I didn’t lose my job just because the workload in my area went down. It’s really nice to have a job right now when so many people don’t have jobs.”
Jeri Davis, an X-ray lab tech at Mercy Hospital Springfield, agrees, and says this work, although unusual, still contributes to the Mercy mission of caring for patients. “I’m thankful for the work, and I say a little prayer with every mask I bag up.”