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McMaster and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and community rallies to share mask supply with United Way of Halton & Hamilton and YWCAJune 25, 2021

Thanks to a group of McMaster faculty, staff and community partners, more than 150,000 Level 3 masks will go to help non-profit organizations.

Catherine Clase believes in second chances. As a physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and Associate Professor at McMaster, she heard that a store of masks at the hospital had minor deterioration that made them unsuitable for clinical use. She decided to reach to her colleague in McMaster’s Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials (CEPEM) with the hope that these masks could still be used by someone else.

“St. Joe’s had a sizeable quantity of masks that couldn’t be used at the hospital, where they must meet the most exacting standards. These were still useable in other settings as Level 1 masks, so I reached out to CEPEM to see how we could ensure they went to use. St. Joe’s was immediately supportive of finding a new home for the masks that would otherwise need to go to landfill,” says Clase.

Through CEPEM, Darren Lawless, Assistant Vice President, Research, Innovation and Partnerships, was able to connect with community partners and social innovators to help put the masks to good use. St. Joseph’s and the CEPEM group helped distribute the masks to the United Way of Halton & Hamilton (UWHH), and YWCA, to help make them available to their networks.

“We feel so appreciative of the incredible donation of over 55,000 pieces of Personal Protective Equipment made by St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton & McMaster University made this past May 2021. This incredible donation will help protect women, girls and their families in the many communities YWCA Hamilton serves. Thank you for reaching those who need you most.” shared Mirela Marceta, Community Engagement Coordinator, YWCA Hamilton

Organizing and delivering the masks to UWHH and YWCA was handled by people from St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, CEPEM and other members of the community. St. Joseph’s first volunteered a delivery truck to move them to the warehouse space sponsored by McMaster Innovation Park at the former Hamilton Spectator building. From there, the masks will be distributed to non-profit community groups through a scheduled pick-up day.

“The community really rallied around us at the beginning of the pandemic when PPE was in short supply, donating whatever they could,” says Angela Mastandrea, Director, Strategic Sourcing and Logistics at St. Joe’s. “It feels wonderful to be in a position where we can send masks back into the community.”

CEPEM is a multidisciplinary group of people in healthcare and health sciences, engineering, social innovation, outreach and more. Their mission is to built capacity of Canadian companies, both new and established, to supply personal protective equipment to the domestic market. The group formed in March 2020 to test materials and designs for use in healthcare settings, as a group of people aligned by a desire to do good.

“It was unbelievable how quickly everyone rallied. Because CEPEM exists, we were able to make this happen,” says Lawless. “People were willing to jump in and help distribute these masks to those who could use them. This doesn’t happen without the spirit of generosity we’ve seen in our communities,” says Lawless.

After the pandemic began and demand for PPE spiked, UWHH launched a procurement program for non-profit partners in April 2020. The program made quality PPE available to keep non-profit staff, volunteers, and community safe.

“The pandemic has exacerbated inequities in our community," notes Vivien Underdown, Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives & Capacity Building with United Way Halton & Hamilton.  "Our most vulnerable neighbours and the social services that support them have struggled to access PPE. We’re grateful for these generous donations, which will provide some relief and help our non-profit partners, volunteers and community to stay safe.” 

While the UWHH budget for bulk procurement ended in March 2021, the need for PPE is still high. It is through donations like this that they can continue supporting groups doing non-profit work in community.

"Our partnership with community stakeholders like McMaster University are vital," says Brad Park President and CEO, United Way Halton & Hamilton. "I remain inspired by the local love demonstrated by community with this donation. It is a great example of our collective efforts and the power of community." 

Catherine Clase is also Editor-in-chief of Evidence-Informed Cloth Masks, a resource created to share up-to-date research around various cloth mask designs in plain, accessible language. She and Darren Lawless co-lead CEPEM’s Cloth Mask Knowledge Exchange, a volunteer stakeholder group dedicated to improving the design and efficiency of cloth masks.