Natural fit: Memorial experts partnering with community volunteers in pandemic response

May 13th, 2020

By Jeff Green

Dennis Cramm performs final check of a hydrostatic pressure test device. Photo submitted.
Natural fit: Memorial experts partnering with community volunteers in pandemic response

Memorial is collaborating with a group of private-sector volunteers to ensure the province has an adequate supply of critical personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 crisis.

Researchers and technical staff from a variety of disciplines are assisting TaskforceNL to design, fabricate and test PPE such as gloves, masks, gowns and face shields.

Memorial is also providing the group with important processing and design strategies and vital insights into research related to the pandemic.

“When our business and community volunteers came together to devise a plan to provide PPE for front line health-care workers, we knew that the skilled workers at Memorial would be key to our success,” said Cathy Bennett, team leader for TaskforceNL.

Multidisciplinary approach

Among the units directly involved with TaskforceNL are researchers and other employees of Engineering and Applied ScienceMedicineTechnical ServicesScience and Facilities Management.

The units are re-configuring some university laboratories to conduct the required tests for Health Canada approval of PPE.

Just a handful of certified laboratories in North America can handle the testing, so Memorial is moving quickly to build this capability.

Doing so is a major milestone in the work associated with the TaskForceNL group.

‘Dedicated team’

Rick Meaney, director, Department of Technical Services, is the primary contact at Memorial for members of the wider community who are seeking access to the university’s facilities and expertise relating to PPE.

“Given the supply chain challenges there is a need to ensure our front-line workers have the appropriate PPE to perform their jobs safely,” Mr. Meaney told the Gazette during an interview.

He says new capabilities are being developed and new collaborations are being formed.

“The ability of TaskForceNL to assemble a dedicated team of subject matter experts was evident from the onset,” Mr. Meaney added.

“This immediately generated a number of collaborative relationships that would have otherwise not occurred.”

He says there are a number of designs that should be ready soon for Health Canada approval.

Urgent research

Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research), commends TaskforceNL for its community leadership.

He also thanks the Memorial experts and technical staff for their valuable contributions to the initiative.

Dr. Bose says Memorial is a natural fit to collaborate with TaskforceNL.

“We have world-class research facilities and expertise to share during this challenging time,” said Dr. Bose. “There is a very strong will from all to assist and support initiatives, especially those that will have a long-term impact and be of long-term benefit to the community and private sector enterprise.”

In addition to the work related to TaskforceNL, Memorial is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in other ways.

In the Faculty of Medicine, experts are providing leadership on the front lines and behind the scenes; a professor of epidemiology recently secured nearly $300,000 in federal funding for COVID-19 research; and researchers and staff – including those from other units such as Technical Services – are working with a local 3-D manufacturing company with Memorial roots on items to help protect health care workers.

An infection control expert from the Faculty of Nursing has provided insight on the use of homemade face masks; and a Faculty of Business Administration researcher advises that employers must protect workers from online harassment as more people are switching to remote work environments.

Also, an expert in theoretical ecology, evolution and epidemiology from the Faculty of Science created an app to communicate some of the basic concepts behind the impact social distancing has on flattening the curve; while an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science is developing a personal protective equipment testing facility and engineers are collaborating with the community to test personal protective equipment for Health Canada approval.

Jeff Green is a senior communications advisor with the Office of the Vice-President (Research). He can be reached at jeffg@mun.ca.

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