University Hospitals launches 100,000 Masks Project

In January of this year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit close to home for Dr. Randy Jernejcic, University Hospitals primary care physician and Director of Clinical Integration. His wife, Junxia Tang, is from Wuhan province in China and her parents still live there. When the coronavirus outbreak began, Dr. Jernejcic sent a care package of masks to his in-laws in the hope they would provide some protection. 

When COVID-19 reached the U.S., Dr. Jernejcic felt compelled to act on what he’d learned about the critical need for masks from his family in China. “Friends were asking me, ‘What can we do?’” Dr. Jernejcic recalls. His idea: a “sew-a-thon” where volunteers would help create face masks that could be distributed community-wide and worn as a protective measure to stop the disease’s spread.

Dr. Jernejcic’s brain child sparked an enormous amount of interest among UH caregivers, and blossomed overnight into a productive cottage industry made up of medical and non-medical staff, throngs of talented sewing volunteers from all over Ohio, local small businesses and national corporations. Within days, the 100,000 Masks project was launched. 

"We are proud to support healthcare professionals on the frontlines in the midst of this difficult time,” said Stephen Caution, VP, Business Development & Services of JOANN, whose company donated more than 8,500 yards of fabric and other materials to UH. 

Additional contributors also readily responded: 

  • Checkers Distributors, the world’s largest distributor of quilting and sewing products donated an additional 6000 yards of fabric.
  • New York City based companies Michael Miller Fabric, Timeless Treasures of Fabrics of Soho, and New Jersey based Baum Textiles donated a combined 7,200 yards of fabric.
  • Pins & Needles, a family-owned and operated sewing & craft shop in Northeast Ohio created the pattern for the masks and serves as a distribution and collection site for the project.
  • Legend Headwear, a local family-owned Cleveland company, assisted in cutting fabric.
  • Fount, a Cleveland leather retailer, put the word out to their network of customers and the creative community to identify sewers. 
  • Consolidated Solutions, a promotion and print company and longtime UH supporter, offered to cut the fabric into usable pieces on equipment donated to them by their supplier, Esko, a global graphic arts company.
  • GLI, a pool safety cover and liner company out of Youngstown, changed the configuration of their entire operation in order to assist in the cutting process. They also donated nose pieces and ties for the masks, and recruited Gasser Chair to help cut fabric as well.
  • The Cleveland Browns “Mask Making Miracle Crew” led by team seamstress Becky Zielinski sewed nearly 2,000 masks.
  • Paris Healthcare Linen Services in Ravenna donated $28,000 in laundry services to sanitize the masks.

Once all the components were ready, the laborious task of organizing kits for pick-up began. UH staff members and countless volunteers created an assembly line that generated 10,000 kits of ten masks each, ready for distribution. Within two weeks all 100,000 kits were distributed to individuals, sewing groups, neighborhood organizations and countless others.

Completed kits arrive via the mail daily and at various UH drop off locations. More than 72,000 masks have already been returned and are available to visitors to UH facilities, patients presenting to drive-thru testing facilities, COVID-19 patients (as an alternative to surgical masks only if they cannot tolerate other types) and all caregivers who are not involved with COVID-19 patients. The remainder of the masks are expected by the end of April.

Dr. Jernejcic summed up the whirlwind success of the project this way, “COVID-19 changed our lives almost instantaneously. This disease moves quickly, but the remarkable spirit of the Greater Cleveland community moves even faster.” 

University Hospitals is grateful to all individuals and organizations willing to help our caregivers, patients and community during the COVID-19 crisis. Community response and caregiver support funds have been established to support the extensive patient care, medical supplies, research and education needs. 

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