A month into the new decade, it was clear to ILC Dover leadership that the company, best known for its spacesuits, would have to adapt to unexpected circumstances. Coronavirus was going to impact the world and ILC Dover’s customers.
The company was already fulfilling orders from top healthcare facilities nationwide for its top-of-the-line powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs)The Sentinel XL HP PAPR systems were designed, using customer feedback, to provide superior protection for those workers who confront infectious disease every day – frontline personnel who would be at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19.
By mid-February, demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) began to spike. By the end of March, demand for PPE was up more than 1,000 percent over the previous year.
ILC Dover was shipping orders to healthcare customers across the country at rapid pace, and quickly recognized it would have to increase production to match the exponential growth in demand.
“ILC Dover is no stranger to creating solutions under immense pressure,” says ILC Dover CEO Fran DiNuzzo. “The company protected American astronauts on the moon and kept healthcare workers safe during Ebola and SARS outbreaks. In addition to the work we are doing to support healthcare workers, we support pharmaceutical customers developing revolutionary medicines; customers who are focused on food production and supply key products for the critical defense and the security of the nation. Our culture of innovation is designed to respond with highly engineered solutions in each customer’s moment of need.”
In early February ILC Dover leadership adjusted operations to protect workers at each of their global locations from what would later be labeled a pandemic. At the same time, as demand for PPE surpassed the previous year’s orders by 1,000 percent, ILC Dover began ramping up production to 30 times its previous monthly output.
It was also clear that frontline healthcare workers needed a highly protective and comfortable hood that was also easy and intuitive to put on and then remove without concerns for contamination of the user.
With the dramatic surge in demand, the new product had to be immediately producible using materials and equipment currently in the ILC Dover facility in Frederica, or readily available.
In a matter of weeks, the ILC Dover team developed a new hood to support their healthcare respirator system for use during the COVID-19 outbreak. EZ BioHood prototypes have already been tested by loyal customers and approved by NIOSH in record time. The company is now shipping orders for the new hood, just over a month after starting design.
“The ILC Dover team has shown extraordinary commitment to helping our healthcare customers do their job effectively and safely,” says Vice President of Marketing Paul Cannon. “The company has always supplied critical personal protective equipment products to these frontline workers. What has changed is the demand for the products – up 1,000 percent over last year.”
Throughout the dramatic ramp-up of PPE production, ILC Dover continues to supply pharmaceutical customers worldwide with the equipment they need to develop and produce new drugs or ramp up production – many also responding to increased demand due to COVID-19. Customers involved in food production, and those ensuring national security, have also experienced no interruption, despite economy-wide supply chain disruptions.
Cannon shared a nurse’s response upon receiving a PAPR from ILC Dover: “I arrived home at midnight to see it (PAPR) lying on my steps. It was a pleasant birthday gift and you probably facilitated in saving my life. My family and I are truly appreciative of your effort and would like to thank you. Words cannot explain. I now have the confidence of providing care to those who really need it with my own PPE. Thank you.”
Says hospital nurse practitioner Kate from Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, “We are taking care of patients with COVID-19, patients needing intense medical care and lifesaving procedures. As we expand and open new units, our providers are asking for the level of protection that PAPRs provide.”
Bayhealth CEO Terry M. Murphy, says, “PAPRs are essential to keeping our staff safe. We were very happy when ILC Dover reached out to see if we needed any PAPRs, as we were starting to run low on our supply. As a result of them stepping in, we have been able to continue to support and protect our staff who are caring for COVID-19 patients.”
Beyond the hospital setting, where respirators are used in treating seriously ill patients, other healthcare providers have concerns. As the economy reopens, they will continue to deal with infectious disease. Physician Deborah Wingel runs a primary care practice in Hockessin. “During the current COVID-19 pandemic, there have been significant challenges to keeping ourselves, our staff, and our patients safe,” says Dr. Wingel. “Most of these issues revolve around access to enough PPE.”
Wingelrecognized that over 9,000 healthcare providers have been infected with the coronavirus. “When patients get sick, their first contact is their primary care doctor,” she said. “I need to be able to examine and treat safely. When I learned more about ILC Dover PAPR systems, I felt it would be the perfect solution to our problems with protecting healthcare workers from COVID-19. This product offers us 100x the protection of an N95 mask, and I can engage directly with my patients through the clear shield. It requires certain protocols to put on and remove it, but it is worth it to me. (It will give me peace of mind while examining my daily patients) The Sentinel PAPR system is made right here in Delaware – less than one hour from my practice.”
“We anticipate high demand for PPE at least into the summer,” says DiNuzzo, “and then while we expect a slowing demand as this crisis subsides, demand will decrease to a level higher than before COVID-19, due to a new recognition of need for re-supply at our nation’s hospitals and strengthening of our national strategic supply. The healthcare industry will want to prepare for everything from the routine infectious diseases they treat to the next pandemic.”