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Margaritaville folks make hundreds of masks for healthcare workers

SMA Healthcare had about 185 medical-grade N95 masks at the start of March. That number has now dropped to 108.

They are not wasting away in Margaritaville.

Instead, residents of the new 55-and-older community have made hundreds of face masks out of fabric and elastic for SMA Healthcare workers who have faced a severe shortage of medical-grade N95 masks.

The effort, led by 63-year-old Margaritaville resident Gloria Hogue, has supplied concerned workers with nearly 800 masks. A group of 40 residents have sewn masks themselves or donated funds or supplies to assist with the effort.

The handmade masks — which feature printed patterns such as polka dots or stars and stripes — are worn across the faces of workers who care for people dealing with addiction, mental health issues or both.

“We’re very grateful to have them,” said Kelly Jenkins-Gregory, director of nursing for SMA Healthcare. She noted that the shortage of personal protective equipment has been a source of fear among many healthcare workers.

SMA Healthcare had about 185 N95 masks at the start of March. That number has now dropped to 108.

The much-needed masks are now used in cases where staff members have to work with a patient who has tested positive for COVID-19. There are no known such cases among SMA Healthcare patients, according to Rhonda Harvey, chief operating officer of the agency.

Although the agency has placed a large order for N95 masks, it remains unclear when the shipment will arrive, which has left workers unnerved.

“At the time that the supply chain went dry, we didn’t know it was going to go dry,” Harvey said. “The personal protective equipment that staff wear on a daily basis all of a sudden became a luxury. We’re now down to a very small number of N95s. We’ve got orders of almost 20,000, but we don’t have a clue when those will come in.”

Stress among workers has increased as supplies dwindle.

“It’s concerning to me as an administrator because I don’t know how long a workforce will work without the personal protective equipment and keeping a workforce at the ready is my job,” Harvey said. “The mere fact that we might not have basic equipment is somewhat terrifying.”

For Hogue and several other Margaritaville residents, the severe shortage of N95 masks has pushed them to work hard on their sewing machines each day. The effort began at the end of March after Harvey, a fellow Margaritaville resident and friend to Hogue, told her about the shortage.

Although hundreds of masks have been donated to workers in need, Hogue said she does not intend to quit soon.

“My heart’s just broken for them,” she said. “I cannot imagine what they’re going through. They’re putting their lives at risk for all of us.”

The handmade masks have offered protection and relief to SMA Healthcare workers like Kristy Wenzel, a crisis service medication nurse. But she still hopes to see a shipment of N95 masks arrive soon.

“It’s scary that there may come a time where we don’t have the appropriate personal protective equipment to do our job,” she said.

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Margaritaville folks make hundreds of masks for healthcare workers