BENTON HARBOR — Standing among boxes of personal protective equipment that was piled high in a Spectrum Health Lakeland warehouse, Loren Hamel said he didn’t feel like he was surrounded by cardboard.
“It feels more like love,” said Hamel, president of Spectrum Health Lakeland. “This is going to help everybody that is coming in contact with COVID-19 that we can help.”
On Friday, several Lakeland and Whirlpool Corp. officials gathered at Lakeland’s Meadowbrook location in Benton Harbor to outline what has been brought to the community.
Since the coronavirus pandemic has continued to wreak havoc in hospitals, Whirlpool has increased its efforts to obtain several shipments of medical supplies for donation to Spectrum Health Lakeland.
“These donations are incredibly important as we continue to face this global pandemic,” Hamel said. “With the help of Whirlpool, we’ll be better prepared to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Southwest Michigan, as the virus is expected to reach its peak in the U.S. in the next couple of weeks.”
The shipments contained more than 92 skids, with tens of thousands of medical masks, gloves, thermometers and hospital gowns. The majority of these supplies will be donated to Lakeland and the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office.
Whirlpool’s procurement and supply chain organization was able to use its global connections to procure the much-needed medical supplies.
“During a crisis like this, we realize that time is of the essence,” said Liz Door, senior vice president of procurement at Whirlpool. “That’s why we worked quickly with our supplier community, our Whirlpool North America and Whirlpool China colleagues.”
Door said Whirlpool helped facilitate at least nine different shipments of equipment. The Benton Harbor appliance maker’s efforts began in mid-March.
The majority of the boxed equipment at the Lakeland Meadowbrook facility came from China, Door said.
There were several barriers that required planning in getting the materials through U.S. Customs. Because of this, Whirlpool’s procurement team worked closely with U.S. Rep. Fred Upton’s office to make these shipments possible.
Upton, R-St. Joseph, said it was a couple weeks ago when he first got a call from Hamel. Afterward, he got a call from Whirlpool executives.
From there, Upton said he reached out to Vice President Mike Pence, who in turn got the White House involved. Upton next found a contact who previously helped facilitate similar deliveries around the country.
“My next-door neighbor in Washington happens to be the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, and they have jurisdiction over U.S. Customs,” Upton said. “It was there that I reached out as well. When they heard about this wonderful gift, they dropped everything to make sure that it happened.”
Upton said finding personal protective equipment remains an overwhelming issue.
After a call to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday, Upton said he learned the state is much better off now than it was a couple weeks ago, when the state was hours away from being short on equipment.
Upton said a lot is being done behind the scenes, which he saw first-hand when given a tour of Lakeland’s command center.
“There were probably a good hundred people who were working,” Upton said. “There were charts on the wall. People were lining up personal equipment. It was almost like a military exercise in what they were doing.”
Hamel said up until now, the Lakeland hospital system has had to conserve a lot of its PPE because they’ve been low on supply.
He said they now have enough to last them for two to three months.
“In some areas, the supplies were dwindling where we only had enough left for a few days. This will help give us the push that we need to protect the community,” he said.
“In a typical day, we might track down 30 to 40 dead ends. There are all kinds of folks who used to be able to supply us who can’t do so now. The work that Liz and her team did was just unbelievable. They went to the source, with the right connections, with the right documentation and got the job done.”