UNI helps coordinate local PPE production

With Cedar Valley hospitals, health clinics and nursing homes still in critical need of personal protective equipment, the University of Northern Iowa continues to be part of the supply effort. 

Face shields made on the university’s 3D printers and assembled by students are now in use at the nonprofit People’s Community Health Clinic in Waterloo, at MercyOne Cedar Falls Medical Center and Western Home Communities nursing home in Cedar Falls. And UNI administrators, faculty and students are part of a scaled-up project - set to end this week - to assemble 10,000 face shields for UnityPoint Health hospitals. 

“This remains a powerful community undertaking - people are so eager to help our region’s health care workers and it’s just continued to grow,” said UNI’s assistant to the president for board and governmental relations Andrew Morse, who is helping coordinate the community effort. 

For the latest project, UnityPoint Health supplied raw materials for the face shields and dozens of volunteers worked in four-hour shifts assembling them. Among the first to join the effort was Emily Dvorak, who graduated from UNI in December with a public health degree and now serves full-time at the UNI Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE) as the Community Food Security AmeriCorps VISTA. 

Dvorak signed up to help after seeing an email from CEEE director Kamyar Enshayan seeking volunteers. She and other early volunteers last week helped set up the production process.

“It felt really meaningful working together with a group of people trying to solve a problem,“ she said. 

The groups are working out of donated space normally used for shipping and receiving at the 23,000-square-foot Jerald Sulky plant, which has been manufacturing horse carriages in Waterloo for over 100 years. 

Owner Erik Lee purchased the business, which employs eight workers, with his wife Shelli five years ago. Even though the company is still busy producing its signature product, Lee said he wanted to be part of the effort to keep the community’s health care workers safe. 

“I didn’t realize there was going to be this kind of shortage in PPE,” he said. “I know that UnityPoint is incredibly happy that this group is pulling together.”

“There’s already been talk of an additional run to make more face shields.”