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NEWS | June 10, 2020

Eye on Innovation: “You Make the World a Better Place when you Help Others”: NNSY Personnel Help Local Medical Facilities in Fight Against COVID-19

By Kristi Britt, Public Affairs Specialist

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and medical professionals work around the clock to care for those affected, there has been a need for equipment and a call-to-action for those willing to assist. For many, this meant simply following the guidelines set forth by their state, donating what they could. However, some took a more innovative approach to ensure those working on the frontlines were well equipped for the challenges at hand.

Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) Code 105.7 Radiological Control Technical Qualification School (RCTQS) Instructor Aaron Bass saw an opportunity to help. Being friends with two Infectious Disease Doctors at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, he heard directly what frontline workers were experiencing.

“As we are all dealing with the impact of COVID-19 in every aspect of our lives, we are seeing and hearing about the struggles it is placing on the health care community,” said Bass. “Like most hospitals and medical facilities around the country, Sentara Norfolk General was facing a significant shortage in the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to continue to protect the health care workers that we rely on to take care of those affected by this virus.”

Bass explained that the hospital estimated that there may not be enough supplies to last through the coming weeks with the rate of patients being admitted to the hospital. “This isn’t an isolated problem but one that is being experienced in every community, in every corner of America,” said Bass. “My friend working on the frontline in the hospital said that he was on the verge of using a bandana as a last resort for PPE and it offered little protection. When I realized that I could possibly do something to help I felt obligated to do whatever I could.”

Bass recently bought a three-dimensional (3-D) printer after losing one of his index fingers at the beginning of 2020 as a way to construct a prosthetic in his time of need. Fairly new to the technology, Bass was able to find several open source files online to help construct a substitute respirator and face shield mount that best fit the needs of the medical team at Norfolk General.

“I was inspired by the outside the box thinking and actions at all the shipyards.  I also drew inspiration from all the efforts NNSY had been put in place to ensure our employees had proper PPE and cleaning supplies to minimize the spread,” said Bass. “I worked with my friends to find the best fit for their team and provided them with printed PPE that could be used throughout the hospital. The feedback I’ve received from the medical team has been sheer gratitude for my help.”

Bass continued, “I recognized that the scope of the current crisis affects everyone and it is something that requires effort from everyone to overcome. We rely on medical personnel to be there to help us when we are sick and in need, and if we don’t take care of those people who are on the frontline there won’t be people there to help when we need it.  If we have the ability to help, I feel like we have a moral obligation to act.”

Bass, who is currently teleworking, is thankful to those who have risen to the challenge to face COVID-19 head on, whether they be medical professionals, or essential workers like those on the waterfront maximizing the mission of the Navy. “What I have accomplished on this effort is minimal compared to the folks who are reporting to work at the shipyard every day and getting the job done – working to protect our country. Many of them are working tirelessly to ensure we have the proper equipment and protection to face the challenges safely - they are the ones who deserve the most credit. Thank you for all that you do.”

Nuclear Engineering and Planning Department Director Curt Hart relayed Bass’s success up the chain to Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Executive Director James Smerchansky. Impressed with this initiative, NNSY was provided point of contacts to share corporately and expand this capability well beyond Hampton Roads. Bass’s design files were shared around with other NAVSEA sites around the country and the Navy now has shops on both coasts using 3-D printing to create the much needed PPE supplies.

Another NNSY employee who found a way to help those in need was Code 2330 Nuclear Engineer David Shamblin. He also has a personal 3-D printer, and is working to print PPE utilizing the National Institute of Health (NIH) files available. When he reached out to his shipyard team to share his efforts, Code 2330.5 Training Branch Head Kevin Katula shared that his wife, who worked at Sentara Obici Hospital in Suffolk, Virginia, was experiencing a shortage of PPE.

“I wanted to reduce scarcity for needed PPE and give frontline workers the tools they needed to be successful in helping to treat others. Since I had the equipment and ability to do it, I did it,” said Shamblin. “I used a face shield design from the NIH approved for clinical settings. I secured materials including printer filament, clear plastic shields, and headbands, and got to work.”

He was able to turn over face shield frames to the hospital, receiving gratitude from the workers for his high-quality prints and the utility of the designs. Shamblin explained that the workers have been so impressed that they have looked to him to continue his printing efforts not only for face shields, but also for ventilator adapters so that one ventilator can be used for up to four people.

Shamblin noted that this effort to assist has grown more than he ever thought possible, all thanks to the power of the internet and communication. “I posted an advertisement on Facebook Marketplace asking if there were further needs among frontline organizations for 3-D printed PPE and together with other individuals we started a group to coordinate efforts within the area to manufacture and deliver PPE to those in need. Individuals were able to assist in any way they could, including donating materials. What started as a simple gesture turned into a wave of assistance. The ventilator adapter has involved a few of us from our group, including an engineer from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Langley who made the final design for print. We’re all coming together and facing whatever challenge to help wherever we’re needed – bringing our own skills to the plate to overcome whatever hurdle stands in our way.”

As the country continues to combat COVID-19, Shamblin is hopeful thanks to those who do their part for their community. “You make the world a better place when you help others. Things are hard enough right now as it is, so I’m hoping that all the people doing what they can is making this whole situation a little more bearable,” he said. “My advice is if you want to help, do what you’re good at and leverage your abilities. Join a group that’s making PPE and offer to distribute or organize their spreadsheets if that’s your thing. Do your part to help protect yourself and others – be leaders in ensuring we all have the protection we need to minimize the spread.”