By Robbie McKay Lincoln News • April 16, 2020
MILLINOCKET – The art of sewing is proving to be irreplaceable during the Covid-19 Outbreak of 2020, and local stitchers have stepped up to the plate to fill a critical need.
Across America, volunteers are spending thousands of hours seated at their sewing machines, working tirelessly to make sure that health care professionals have the necessary masks to keep them safe while they care for those with the virus. The Millinocket region is no exception, and several groups have become activated to make sure that Millinocket Regional Hospital is well supplied during this pandemic.
Beth Sulander has made costumes for years that are used in the performing arts in the tri-town area. As it became apparent that masks were needed in other areas of the state and nation, she began producing them along with others in the region anticipating demand and preparing for it.
“We started doing masks before people we asking for them,” she said.
As time went on, Sulander realized that while there were thankfully a number of people doing masks, the hospital was also in need of isolation gowns that could be washed and reused. She knew two people that had made costumes with her, and the group decided to make isolation gowns for MRH; these gowns could be washed and reused, a great benefit to the hospital. There were a few kinks to work out in the process, however; having the right type of machine was the first qualification.
Sulander enlisted the help of Patsy Huston and Brenda Kerr, people she had worked with on making costumes in the past.
“Garment sewing is different,” Sulander said. “We all have ‘sergers’,” she said. Sergers are specialized sewing machines that finish the seams as they sew, thereby eliminating any fraying that might occur otherwise in the garment. Once the three came together and made the decision to make the gowns, the next step was to work out the logistics of the operation.
Sulander contacted a fabric supplier she buys from when doing costumes, and had bolts of material shipped immediately. In order for the gowns to remain sterile, when the fabric is delivered it is kept on the porch as it is wrapped in plastic. It is wiped down, and left out there for seven days before it is brought inside for Sulander to cut pattern pieces out for the other stitchers to sew. Once the garments are complete, they are returned to Sulander who in turns gets them to Katie Mackin, marketing director for MRH.
Hustus and Kerr will do 8-10 at a time and bring them back to her for distribution. With close to 30 already done and another 30 ready for an anticipated delivery in two weeks, there is no time to waste for these volunteers.
Sulander said she is thankful and proud that so many people in the area are making masks which are so desperately needed. Remaining positivie while in the middle of the pandemic, she is still looking ahead with optimism to what lies ahead.
“We wish this wasn’t the reason for doing this, but it is,” she said.
In the days to come, Sulander hopes that any differences the people of the nation have can be put to rest.
From her wish, it becomes clear that while the needle is sewing, her mind is going.
About Millinocket Regional Hospital
Millinocket Regional Hospital (MRH) is a 25 bed Critical Access Hospital nestled at the base of Baxter State Park that provides vital healthcare services to those who live, work and play in the Katahdin Region. Beyond the friendly staff and award-winning patient care, MRH provides an impressive range of specialty and general services; with a recent expansion resulting in the addition of eight new specialties and a Walk-In Care facility. In 2018, MRH was awarded the Press Ganey ‘Guardian of Excellence Award’ for exceptional patient experience; a nationally-recognized symbol of achievement for hospitals who consistently perform within the top 5%. Providing jobs to approximately 250 people, MRH is the largest employer in the Katahdin Region and a crucial economic driver within its community. For more information, please visit www.mrhme.org or www.facebook.com/MillinocketRegionalHospital