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SDSU community helping sew masks for Brookings Health System

Brookings Health System using cloth masks
Team members from Brookings Health System are using home sewn masks made by community members as another protective barrier for themselves and patients in the fight against COVID-19. Registered Nurse Kimberly Gray assists Patient Care Technician Peyton Bierman on the computer while RN Erica Sanderson enters orders at a nurses’ station on Inpatient Care. Photo courtesy of Brookings Health System.

Instead of sewing costumes for South Dakota State University theatrical productions or making quilts or other projects, more than 20 individuals are making masks for Brookings Health System and Avera Medical Group Brookings.

Billy Wilburn, an associate professor at SDSU, has helped coordinate community members, SDSU faculty, staff and students who have made more than 400 masks. Materials for the masks have come from personal fabric collections, scrap fabric from the SDSU Costume Shop and some special surgical fabric from Brookings Health System.

According to Sara Schneider, director of Brookings Health System Foundation, Brookings Health received more than 900 masks.

“Billy Wilburn has gone above and beyond to help share our sewing pattern and resources on the SDSU campus and within the community. It has been truly heartwarming to see the community come together and be so supportive of our local health care teams,” she said.

As a contingency plan in the event the health system faces a surge of COVID-19 patients, home sewn cloth masks will be used with standard masks by employees who have direct face-to-face contact with patients or residents, said Bunny Christie, the health system’s infection preventionist. Nonclinical staff members and patients will be given a cloth mask to wear upon entering the health system’s doors. The masks decrease the risk of infection while protecting patients and staff members.

Only a little time
Wilburn coordinated with JoAnn Fabrics in town and has been picking up the donations there.

“All of the responses I have had are positive,” Wilburn said. “Everyone is so willing to help in this time of need.”

One of those individuals is Melissa Hauschild-Mork, the School of Performing Arts’ dance coordinator. She said it takes her 10 to 15 minutes to sew a mask if all of the supplies are prepped and cut.

“I will continue sewing until the need subsides. I have crates of fabric in my basement along with bins of thread,” she said. “There are so many individuals in health care working diligently to care for others, making masks is one way I feel I can help. I have never experienced anything like this pandemic in my life. Many of us are feeling stressed and helpless. We clearly all have to work together to get through this—my contribution in the big picture is to share my gifts to help others practice theirs.”

Rebecca Krause, a senior majoring in theater from Brookings, started sewing masks as a way to keep busy while self-isolating. After finding a tutorial from JoAnn Fabrics, she started an assembly-line like process and can create a mask in seven or eight minutes. Krause also acts in State University Theatre productions and designs sets.

“I make the masks, not because I am worried about getting sick, but I have friends and loved ones who are susceptible to the virus, and I want to protect them,” said Krause, who also has been sewing small handmade items for her theater friends around the Midwest. “I also am aware of the pressure the health system is under, so I want to do something small to support them since funds aren't always readily available.”

More still needed
It takes Sue Fierstine about 20 minutes to sew a fitted mask. The budget and administrative coordinator for SDSU’s College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, Fierstine spent 19 years working in health care. She sees the sewing as a way to give back to former co-workers and others who are on the front line of fighting COVID-19.

“I have been sewing since I was in middle school and have been quilting for the past 13 years so it was a natural way I could contribute,” said Fierstine, who also has three sisters sewing masks. “I'll continue as long as they need them.”

That’s just what Schneider likes to hear.

“The response from the Brookings community and surrounding areas has been incredible,” she said. “So many community members have reached out to us, asking us how they can help us through the COVID-19 pandemic. We are so grateful for the groups and individuals that have shared their time and talent. With the worldwide shortage of critical PPE caused by the pandemic, we need to make sure we maintain an adequate supply to care for our community.”

Brookings Health still has a need for home sewn cloth masks and personal protective equipment. A complete list of needed items can be found at Brookings Health’s website—https://www.brookingshealth.org/foundation—along with instructions for Brookings Health’s preferred pattern for fabric surgical masks. Brookings Health’s preferred pattern for protecting health care workers has a double-layered cotton or cotton blend with a pocket to insert a filter and tie straps instead of elastic. If anyone is interested in learning more or would like to donate, they can schedule a PPE drop-off time by calling the Brookings Health System Foundation at 605-696-8855.