Manufacturers Step Up to Meet Health Care Needs

Healthcare care equipment from the Airbus team is delivered to USA Health.

In a program coordinated by the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, with technical input from the University of South Alabama, several of south Alabama’s largest manufacturers turned some of their production capacity from steel, ships and jet planes to masks, face shields and the straps to hold them as the region struggled to battle the first wave of Covid-19 cases.

Austal USA, Airbus and AM/NS Calvert, all global firms with significant operations in Mobile, made equipment for local hospitals, health care workers and first responders.

Starting early in the pandemic, the Chamber instituted a weekly conference call among these key firms and the university to create an industry consortium.

“It was clear our local health care facilities and professionals were about to encounter an unprecedented medical event,” said Wendy Bedsole, executive director of the Medical Society of Mobile County.

“As the hospitals and health care centers were taking inventory and preparing their facilities,” she said, “a primary need was face masks and shields. We reached out to our business community to ask for any equipment. The response was overwhelming.”

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Mathew Reichert, assistant vice president for research at USA, helped direct the technical expertise that allowed the firms to repurpose 3-D printing capabilities for medical equipment needs.

Austal USA, the fifth largest shipbuilder in the U.S., which usually makes ships for the U.S. Navy at its Mobile facilities, began making surgical mask tension relief straps and reusable medical masks.

Airbus, the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, which assembles commercial aircraft in Mobile, also began producing tension relief straps and masks, working in concert with the university, Coastal Alabama Community College and community volunteers.

AM/NS Calvert, one of the world’s most technically advanced steel mills, also turned some capacity to health care equipment.

“Through the efforts of companies like Austal, Airbus, AM/NS Calvert, the Mobile Area Chamber, and more, we were able to address the needs of not only our local hospitals, but hundreds of other local health care providers desperately in need of supplies,” Bedsole said.

Though needs may change, the effort to meet them will continue, said David Rodgers, vice president of economic development at the Chamber. “As the economy continues to reopen, we will continue to be in tune with what our health care workers tell us they need,” Rodgers said.

The Chamber is maintaining a list on its website of what local providers have available “to help keep things clean and area employees healthy.”

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