The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the University of Detroit’s dental education programs in early 2020, and reopening them depended in part on securing adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep the students safe. Given the worldwide shortage of PPE, that was not an easy challenge to overcome, but it had to happen before the students could continue their education.
At the same time, employees at Promess Inc., Brighton, Mich., were assembling an ad hoc team of management, assembly and mechanical engineering personnel with the goal of finding a way to produce PPE for local hospitals, first responders, dentists, traveling nurses, homeless shelters and nursing homes in Southeastern Michigan. Promess is a manufacturer of advanced industrial assembly systems and components, typically used on assembly lines to make engines and transmissions for cars, internal components for dishwashers and washing machines, and equipment that makes medical devices. Producing PPE was not part of its regular skill set, but the team was determined to produce emergency supplies of PPE and, with the support of Promess management, they did.
Since business was slow during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of laying off employees the company shifted to temporarily manufacturing PPE. Stephanie Price, software engineer for Promess, sourced the elastic straps, plastic sheeting, and foam needed to create face shields and set up a manual assembly line. Employees were taught how to assemble the components and they produced thousands of face shields; when business returned to normal a month later, Promess had plenty to share.
The first products were shipped to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Howell, Mich., Children’s Hospital in Detroit, several Brighton-area dentists’ offices, a group of local traveling nurses, the Independence Township, Mich., fire department and an assisted living facility in Flint, in April.
Challenge, Meet Solution
In May, Dr. Mike Pyatenko, DDS, Assistant Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy Dental School, read about the project in a local newspaper and saw an opportunity to help get his students back to work.
“The face shields Promess was producing caught my eye,” said Pyatenko, “so I reached out to Promess to see if they could help us. They responded with samples for us to test and then supplied enough to equip 288 of our students, which would get them through a whole semester.”
Promess donated 320 face shields to the program to be used by first- and second-year students. The full PPE suite consists of a medical-grade gown, single or double face masks, goggles or eyeglasses with side shields, gloves and the Promess-made face shields.
All students are trained in the proper donning and doffing of their PPE. The face shields are cleaned with approved surface disinfectants between uses to prolong their service life. Pyatenko expected the face shields to remain serviceable for an entire semester.
“Needless to say, the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry is very appreciative that Promess was willing to help us remove a significant stumbling block toward our students’ education and safety,” he said.
The University of Detroit Mercy Dental School has been educating dentists and hygienists for more than 86 years. From its Detroit campus, the School is dedicated to serving the City of Detroit and surrounding communities through its clinic and outreach programs. These include senior outreach, a clinic at University Health Center at the Detroit Medical Center, and a mobile clinic serving elementary school students.