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Havreites Make Masks To Be Used At Local Hospital

Shannon Heggem had been talking to her friend Dr. Margo Hein-Muniz, a gynecologist at Northern Montana Hospital, about the face mask problem the hospital is having.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a tremendous demand for masks. With the sudden and huge demand, the hospital is struggling to find masks. The two were trying to figure out how to help when they came up with a Havre solution: People in town could sew the masks themselves.

Heggem wanted to help, but by her own admission isn’t very good at sewing. However, she is good at marketing, public relations, and social media. So, she thought, she could create a Facebook page, looking for volunteers to sew, and manage the responses.

At 3 p.m. Saturday, she set up a Facebook page with what she says is the rather awkward name of “Help Needed To Sew Masks for Northern Montana Hospital.” She contacted some of her friends, who then contacted some of their friends.

By Monday night, the Facebook page had 222 members. Some could sew, and some donated fabric; many volunteered to do any other kind of work to help. They even found a need for people to fix pipe cleaners to be used in creating the masks.

It turned out that moderating the page was more than Heggem anticipated. She had to make sure the mask patterns were precisely what the hospital needed. Some well-meaning people had other patterns that had to be deleted.

Other incorrect information had to be removed. One person wanted to make her own masks and use the Facebook page to sell them for a profit — not the intention at all, Heggem said.

A big lift came when Janine Cartwright-Donoven of JM Donoven Designs in Fine Jewelry of Havre volunteered to use her laser equipment to cut the fabric to the exact size the sewers need.

The group got another boost Monday when Havre Walmart agreed to donate fabric to the cause. Getting the fabric from Walmart to people may be difficult in this time of isolation, but something will be worked out, Heggem said.

The last couple of days has been challenging but enjoyable for Heggem.

“It’s been an interesting journey. But very rewarding,” she said.

The Havre native said she never wanted to live anywhere else because the community always comes forward when there is a need.

“Havre has come through again,” she said. “What an awesome community we live in.”

The fabric masks will be for the public to put on when entering the medical facility, and possibly for nonmedical personnel, not for direct patient contact, NMHC Public Relation Coordinator Julianne LaSmith said in an email Tuesday morning. They will be used in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“By asking the public to contribute in this manner, we’re creating our back-up plan and giving folks something to do to help. And they have really stepped up,” LaSmith added.

When people are done sewing the masks, they can drop them in a bin near the second-floor emergency room entrance to Northern Montana Hospital.

When the virus hits Havre, every mask will be needed, Heggem said. She says “when” because she’s sure it will hit. She suspects there are people already carrying the virus who don’t know it.

Several cases were reported over the weekend in Great Falls. Some had been involved in international travel, but others had never left the area. At the time of this report, there were three confirmed cases in Cascade County and 46 throughout Montana.

The group’s next task is finding a pattern so the volunteers can sew long-sleeved, cuffed hospital gowns. Searching for a pattern is difficult while maintaining the required social distancing, so Northern Montana Health Care officials are asking anyone who has such a pattern that can be reproduced without charge to call or message them.

As soon as they have one, the volunteers will go to work. 

Heggem is asking volunteers to keep track of how many masks and gowns they donate to the hospital. She would like to have a total number.

She said she wants to keep up the momentum for the sewing project because she suspects the fight against COVID-19 will be going on for some time. Being more remote means Havre hasn’t been hit as fast as more urban areas, but that will give the area more time to prepare, she said.

In a prepared statement, Northern Montana Health Care said it is delighted with the response.

“The masks have been coming in all weekend, and NMHC is so appreciative for the wonderful and proactive community members here on the Hi-Line,” it said.

NMHC also is collecting items that are known to be in short supply elsewhere in advance of needing them. Without putting themselves at risk, people are asked to donate any unused masks (preferably N95 or P95), gowns, suits, booties, hoods, gloves, or safety glasses/goggles to NMHC at the emergency room entrance to the hospital.

These items could be in storage, unused, or possibly even outdated (within reason). Construction companies, tradesmen, veterinarians, farmers, and ranchers are possible sources in the community.

Unused items may be returned, so donors should include their name, address, and phone number.

Anyone with questions can contact Laura Thornton at (406) 262-1557 or thorlaum@nmhcare.org.

MORE LOCAL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

Write to John Kelleher at john@havreherald.com

editor@havreherald.com (406) 262-7778
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