When Margaret Beckwith, a retired Fremont nurse of more than 20 years, heard that Methodist Fremont Health was in need of homemade gowns, she said she knew she needed to help.
“I like to sew, and so when I heard about it, I called Shawn [Shanahan] and got involved in it,” she said. “And then these gowns, they’re really kind of a challenge, and so I decided I’d get several friends involved in it also.”
With lots of recycled surgical material and help from sewers in the area, the hospital has received more than 150 homemade reusable gowns since April.
Shanahan, who is director of the Fremont Health Foundation, said there were multiple different scares during the COVID-19 pandemic that the hospital would run out of gowns.
“It was truly a time where we had to figure out what other options we had in the event that we could not maintain a gown supply,” she said. “I think that there was a potential gown shortage for us a couple of different times, and I think nationally, it happens somewhere every day.”
At Methodist Fremont Health, more than 300 disposable gowns are used per day.
As a result of these scares, Methodist Fremont Health’s infection control team began researching as to how material from its surgical wrap material could be repurposed into the gowns.
The material, which protects surgical equipment, had previously just been thrown out after its use, Shanahan said.
“We then became aware that other hospitals were also doing it, and so we decided we would try it with a couple of sewers, and it was very successful,” she said. “And so then we reached out to our faith partners and asked if they had any quilting and sewing teams within their churches that would be interested in helping us.”
After reaching out in early April, the hospital received help from churches like First Lutheran, Sinai Lutheran, First United Methodist, Fremont Presbyterian and Redeemer Lutheran.
“We had more sewers than we had material, so we had some sewers on a waiting list until material continued to arrive and come in,” Shanahan said. “And now the material has picked up because surgeries have picked up and the elective surgeries have increased.”
The gowns, which take about an hour each to make, require six of the wraps to make a single one. Patterns have been provided for the sewers to create the gowns from the material provided by the hospital.
“All of us together have taken 19 over to the hospital, and there’s at least four more out there that people haven’t brought back into me yet,” Beckwith said. “And then I have probably six more here that I’ll make.”
The new gowns can be used anywhere from five to nine times, Shanahan said.
“We’re very fortunate in Fremont, as we are one of the few hospitals that have our own laundry services,” she said. “And so our laundry team is able to mark and chart how many uses, how many washes and then really inspect that material to determine if it should or shouldn’t go back out for use, if it meets our qualifications.”
Throughout the process, Shanahan said she’s worked with the sewing teams to be able to make the most out of the provided material.
“I learned a ton about sewing working with amazing women that were willing to teach and educate and then give us feedback on how much material to use, which material worked, how best to sew to it, which tie materials worked,” she said. “So without a true collaboration and amazing communication, we would have never ended up with this amazing product.”
As well as the opportunity to help others out, Beckwith said sewing the gowns has given her personal joy.
“On Tuesday, a friend of mine and I took a bunch of them over to Shawn at the hospital, and she said that the nurses liked the ones we were making better than the ones that they had ordered in,” she said. “It just makes you feel really good when you see that.”
Shanahan said that any interested sewers can contact her at 402-727-3566. The foundation is also looking for cash donations, as well as elastic and Velcro.
Additionally, the hospital is also in need of new white and brown lunch bags, Shanahan said.
“We use those for the laundered and UV process for the N95 masks,” she said. “So when they’re dirty, they come down in the brown lunch bag to be UV’d, and then when they’re ready to go back up to the floor to that nurse, then they go back up in a white, sanitized bag.”
Beckwith said she was glad to have gotten to take part in the gown-making process.
“I think just reaching out to your friends and doing things together, even if you’re doing them in your own home, it’s still kind of a bit of camaraderie to do things together, that they’re working on it and you’re working on it,” she said. “So that was a good part of it.”
Although Methodist Fremont Health never saw its gowns run out, Shanahan said she was thankful for all of the collaborators in giving the the hospital what it needs.
“I am forever grateful for people’s time and talent,” she said. “It saves lives, it’s saved healthcare employees’ lives.”