As the coronavirus sweeps the nation and threatens to cripple the health-care industry, hospitals in the hardest-hit areas are experiencing a shortage of personal protective equipment.

Hospitals are facing a shortage of face masks as the highly infectious disease becomes more widespread, and the need for protective wear becomes greater.

Area businesses and individuals are answering the call for help as local health care facilities begin to feel the strain.

Kelli McCart, a nurse and instructor of health science at Houston County Career Academy, has started a medical mask ministry at Dothan’s Bethel Baptist Church after donating all the extra supplies from the health-sciences program to Southeast Health and Flowers Hospital.

“I am a nurse, so I understand the health-care side of things. It’s so important for us to do what the Bible says — to love your neighbor as yourself,” she said. “This was a perfect opportunity to come together and do something selfless for our community.”

McCart reached out to the leadership at the church, who rallied members with the ability to sew to the cause. One of the seamstresses developed a pattern with detailed, step-by-step instructions of how to make the masks with 100% cotton and elastic bands or ties. The directions can be found on the church’s website alongside simple instructions from the Cleveland Clinic.

Since calling for volunteers, McCart said she is receiving constant text messages from people trying to help, including local quilting associations and sewing groups.

“I think it’s important for our safety and the safety of our community,” McCart said “I think the community should come together and love their neighbor during this time.”

McCart has been working with Southeast Health Foundation Executive Director Merideth Holland, who is coordinating efforts with local business and volunteers with Southeast Health Director of Volunteer Services Jamie Weeks.

Holland said the foundation has seen a tremendous response. In a 24-hour period, 322 masks have been donated to the foundation as of midday Tuesday, and they’ve decided to use the reusable masks to give to patients visiting the hospital to protect them and clinicians from illness.

“The hospital is typically a moderate-/high-risk environment. Once you put this on a patient, who you don’t know where they’ve been and what precautions they’ve taken, it makes it a low-risk environment,” Holland said. “It helps our clinical teams stay safe.”

Holland said there are several simple designs for medical masks out there that are usable for the hospital’s purposes. The ones being donated to Southeast Health have a pocket for coffee filters.

Masks donated to the foundation are laundered before being distributed, and patients can take them home. As long as the integrity of the masks holds up, they are reusable.

The foundation bought fabric from local stores to distribute, but is now facing a material shortage.

Now, the organization is working with Southeastern Apparel, a Dothan-based retailer, to source its own material that will be cheaper for the nonprofit.

Holland said it needs 300 to 400 masks per day and is partnering with the apparel store to provide a steady stream of masks for the hospital by cutting patterns, which is the most time-consuming part of the process.

“We’re just so grateful that we live in a community that steps up and that’s just really touching to me. It’s just so important,” Holland said.

Brittney Pettis, a 21-year-old administrative assistant, learned how to make the masks online a couple of days ago after her mom asked her to make some for her medical office. She has already made over 100 masks to donate to local clinics and both hospitals.

“I’ve probably been doing 20 hours of sewing,” she said. “It’s been nuts.”

Although her work office is still open, her boss at Hara Financial Offices is allowing her to sew masks while on the clock. She is selling some from her Facebook page to pay for materials to make masks for donation.

Other people like Betsy Reeves, a resident of Luverne, are filling the need in their community by putting together masks for Crenshaw Community Hospital and Luverne Health and Rehabilitation. She hopes to start making some for Montgomery hospitals, where the need is becoming more urgent as COVID-19 patients increase.

“There is a huge need there as I’m sure there is everywhere. I just want to help,” said Reeves, a stay-at-home mom of four. “I plan to mail them out to anyone who needs them!”

Dothan’s JoAnn Fabrics also is participating in a companywide effort to provide pre-cut patterns and elastic bands, but are currently out of stock of the supplies and awaiting shipment of more.

McCart is encouraging the craft activity as a pastime for grandparents to share sewing with younger generations to fill the local need.

Anyone wishing to donate can call Southeast Health Foundation at 334-673-4150 to register their group; Flower’s Hospital at 334-793-5000; or drop off finished masks in plastic containers at Dothan’s Bethel Baptist and Memphis Baptist churches.

Mount Gilead Baptist Church and many other individuals also are participating in sewing masks.

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