BENTON HARBOR — Whirlpool Corp. is teaming up with a handful of companies to create alternative personal protective equipment in an effort to address a diminishing supply of N95 respirators and masks.
The Benton Harbor appliance maker announced Thursday that it was working with Dow and Reynolds Consumer Products to provide respirators to health care workers who have been fighting the spread of COVID-19 the past two months.
The joint project is a protective piece of head gear and respirator system that will be made and sold through WIN Health Labs – a subsidiary of Whirlpool that was formed to create covered countermeasures for the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement comes with an initial donation to several hospitals.
Dow and Whirlpool will each donate 1,000 respirators to health care facilities in Louisiana, Michigan and Texas.
“We are using our supply of N95 masks and respirators at a rate 10 times higher than normal,” said Loren Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland. “These are some of the most critical medical supplies to help ensure the safety of frontline workers who are often in direct contact with patients infected with the virus.”
The personal protective equipment created by the joint team is a powered, air-purifying respirator, or PAPR, which takes the place of a traditional medical mask and visor and features a replaceable polyethylene hood.
The clear hoods are flexible and comfortable, and can be quickly replaced between patients.
Each of the companies involved was looking for ways to help, and through those efforts this unique collaboration was born.
Christian Gianni, president of WIN Health Labs and vice president of technology for Whirlpool a team was created to accelerate the design process that helped get the project from the paper to an approved product in seven weeks.
“Volunteers within each of the companies began reaching out to local healthcare providers to inquire how they could be helpful,” Gianni said. “... Through this unique relationship and a huge amount of effort by a very talented group of people, we are now manufacturing respirators and are in a position to help our frontline health care providers.”
Whirlpool designed, made and assembled the headsets. Dow provided the polyethylene resin for the hoods, and Reynolds Consumer Products – makers of the Hefty brand – designed and produced the disposable hood.
Volkswagen of America brokered connections with materials and supply chain partners to source critical components.
Two thousand units are being produced in the first phase for donation to hospitals located in regions where Whirlpool and Dow have operations, as well as other hospitals in need of PPE.
To get the needed PPE to as many health care providers as possible, the Hefty team is donating the first 1 million hoods.
“We are pleased to be able to contribute to this solution to provide PPE that is both safe and effective. Supplies will be available so they can use a fresh barrier as needed,” said Lance Mitchell, CEO of Reynolds Consumer Products. “Multiple companies providing their expertise have moved this project forward quickly at a time when it was most needed.”
The respirator is in production and is made available in a shortened timeframe under guidelines set forth by the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization, which allows the agency to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures needed during public health emergencies.
“We recognize the bravery and commitment of health care workers throughout this crisis, ” said Whirlpool Chairman and CEO Marc Bitzer. “Working with Dow and Reynolds, we are honored to provide this critical equipment to frontline health care workers to help them protect themselves and their patients while they battle this pandemic.”
In March, when the pandemic began to hit Southwest Michigan, Whirlpool donated hundreds of containers of hand sanitizer, hand soap and more than 100,000 medical gloves to Spectrum Health Lakeland.
The appliance maker later increased its efforts in April to obtain several shipments of medical supplies for donation to Spectrum Health Lakeland.
The shipments contained more than 92 skids, with tens of thousands of medical masks, gloves, thermometers and hospital gowns.