Faculty and staff at Clarkson University have begun putting their expertise to the test by working on projects that can help local health care providers battle COVID-19.
Dr. Andrew Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Community Health Center of the North Country, Associate Chief Medical Officer of St. Lawrence Health System, and President of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health, addressed Clarkson faculty and staff during a video conferencing open forum last Friday.
One of the top priority projects that emerged from the discussion was an initiative to help St.Lawrence Health System better utilize their supply of Positive Air Pressure Respirators (PAPRs).
A PAPR is an important personal protective equipment (PPE) device that helps protect health care providers from COVID-19 while interacting with patients.
While St. Lawrence Health System (SLHS) has a supply of PAPRs, they do not have enough batteries or battery chargers to operate their PAPRs around the clock. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, purchasing more batteries or chargers is not currently an option.
Bill Jemison, Dean of the Coulter School of Engineering and Tony Collins Professor of Innovative Engineering Culture and an electrical engineer, suggested modifying the PAPRs to operate from batteries that are readily available. Information was provided on the PAPRs on Saturday, March 28, and a physical PAPR unit was provided to Clarkson on Monday, March 30.
By Monday night, Jemison had a working prototype of the modified PAPR unit in his basement. On Tuesday morning, Jemison and Jacob Weller, engineering shop supervisor at Clarkson, demonstrated the working prototype to Kylie Broughal, a physician's assistant with expertise in infectious disease at St. Lawrence Health System who received her graduate degree from Clarkson. Broughal showed the Clarkson team how to test the units for proper airflow.
A 13-hour test was started Tuesday afternoon to ensure that the flow rate could be maintained over a full 12-hour shift. At 3:15 a.m. on April 1, Jemison verified that units could be operated for an entire shift and a few hours later, the prototype was turned over to St. Lawrence Health System to be tested in a clinical environment.
On the evening of April 1, St. Lawrence Health System made a request for Clarkson to modify an additional five PAPR units. The units were turned over to Clarkson the following morning, April 2, and five hours later they were returned to CPH under a formal Memorandum of Understanding between St. Lawrence Health System and Canton-Potsdam Hospital CEO David Acker and Clarkson President Tony Collins.
Jemison and Weller have since modified seven more units for St. Lawrence Health System. They have now made 29 battery modifications for three different medical centers and six hood modifications.
The video conferencing open forum was hosted by Jemison and Erin Draper, Managing Director of Clarkson Ignite, to discuss how Clarkson could support local efforts against COVID-19.
“There has been a tremendous outpouring of goodwill by people who want to help, but Erin (Draper) and I felt it was important to address the specific needs of our health care providers,” Jemison said. “Dr. Williams did a great job helping us to understand the needs at SLHS & CPH and his input was critical to get our energy focused in high-impact directions.”
Weller is proud of the work he and his colleagues are doing to support those on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The healthcare professionals are the real heroes of this pandemic,” Weller said. “It is nice to be able to help them stay safe. The units we modified will allow two shifts of six people to stay protected for their entire shifts if SLHS & CPH enacts a protocol that requires the continuous use of the PAPR."
Clarkson and SLHS worked together on a video about the project. View it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzB1pTKgJss&feature=youtu.be