Pictured Above: Stony Brook Southampton Hospital physicians and nurses in the protective isolation gowns locally produced and hand-assembled by over 100 dedicated East End volunteers. | Stony Brook Southampton Hospital Photo

While we’ve all heard stories about the dire need for N95 respirators, surgical masks and face shields for health care workers, another dire need of late has been isolation gowns.

The need was so great by late last week that Suffolk County dispatched a crew from its Department of Public Works to Allentown, Penn. last Saturday to meet a stalled delivery from Texas of 25,000 gowns needed immediately by hospitals in the county.

At Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, Emergency Department Vice Chair Dr. Darrin Wiggins, who knew the hospital was in need of gowns, turned to help from Ken Wright, Chairman of the Southampton Hospital Association.

The two created several prototypes of a protective gown and hit upon one that is very similar to the isolation gowns currently used by the hospital’s healthcare workers. That was the first step in an innovative campaign designed to make 20,000 isolation gowns locally in approximately two-and-half weeks.

To produce the gowns, Mr. Wright sought the help of a network of over 100 dedicated volunteers as well as longtime business associate, Michael Reilly of Reilly Architectural, a division of Pella Corporation; Tracy Kappenberg of Riverhead Building Supply; and Tuckahoe School Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik.

Ken Wright, Chair, Southampton Hospital Association; Philip Alford of Wright & Company Construction; and Michael Reilly, Reilly Architectural, who, along with over a hundred East End volunteers, were instrumental in producing and hand-assembling thousands of protective isolation gowns for Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. | Stony Brook Southampton Hospital photo

“No request was too large and everyone eagerly jumped aboard the project,” said Mr. Wright. “In these troubled times, for those of us that are staying home, it’s so valuable to be able do something that feels worthwhile, and this absolutely feels worthwhile. Our community wants to do everything possible to support our local healthcare workers on the front lines battling COVID-19.”

Riverhead Building Supply donated 300,000 square feet of 2ml polyethylene sheets (almost 8 acres of material) along with 10 miles of tape.

Since Reilly Architectural’s operations were suspended in compliance with state regulations, several members of their staff volunteered on rotating schedules to cut the gowns in their Calverton plant.

In less than a week, they had received the donated material and programmed equipment to cut thousands of blanks.  The gown blanks were delivered for temporary storage at the Tuckahoe School. 

The next stage consisted of almost 100 volunteer crew members, including more than 25 employees of Wright & Company Construction, all of whom donated their time to the mission. One group packed 50 gowns per bin, along with tape and instructions.  

A team of seven drivers with trucks delivered those bins to a network of volunteer assemblers working from their homes. These in-home assemblers constructed each isolation gown. Once a bin of fifty gowns was completed, a driver picked it up and dropped off a fresh bin for assembly. The bagged isolation gowns were stored at Tuckahoe for distribution to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, as needed.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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