Pictured left, Philip Clemmons, President/CEO of JELCO poses with the final washable PPE gown constructed by his team next to the initial green gown designed by Sherrie Smith, pictured right, next to her husband, Cullman Regional Chief Medical Officer William Smith, MD.

Cullman Regional has partnered with JELCO, local manufacturer of quality linemen’s safety and utility products, to help meet the supply needs of the local healthcare community.

The Challenge

If you turn on the national news, it’s no secret that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers has been difficult to find. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans had never heard of the terms PPE or N95 mask. Luckily, Cullman Regional has had an active team working to secure supplies since late February to ensure the Cullman Regional healthcare team members are well protected. However, the most challenging item to find on the supply list remained to be PPE gowns. These gowns, which are typically a one-use item, deplete quickly even in a facility with just a few positive COVID-19 patients.

“We began researching how other hospitals were dealing with this supply shortage, and discovered that a few had actually purchased gowns that could be laundered in order to expand their supply,” Cullman Regional Executive Director of Supply Chain Wes Harding said. “When we began looking for vendors who offered gowns that could be laundered, they were all out of stock.”

Creating a Gown Design

Sherrie Smith (pictured left) listens as JELCO President/CEO Philip Clemmons discusses some of the gown modifications his team made to make the gowns easier to mass produce.

The team began looking for a PPE Gown pattern that they could possibly have made, and couldn’t find one. Chief Medical Officer, William Smith, MD, got a couple of samples and asked his wife Sherrie how quickly she could create a PPE gown from scratch without a pattern. She was able to deliver an initial gown within a couple of hours. Sherrie Smith, a former Vice President of Quality at Cullman Regional, had worked right out of high school at Cullman Lingerie.

“Sherrie is an excellent seamstress who frequently makes her own patterns for her sewing projects,” commented Chief Nursing Officer Charna Brown, RN. “She brought us her design and the nursing staff made recommendations for changes, and she immediately re-designed the gowns until we had a perfect pattern.”

Luckily, about the time the pattern was complete, JELCO president and CEO Philip Clemmons, Jr. reached out to the hospital to see if his business could assist the hospital in any way. Clemmons, son of the late Phillip & Pat Clemmons and grandson of the late Dr. Clemmons, wanted to continue their family tradition of giving back.

Pulling together, the Cullman Regional team, utilizing Sherrie Smith’s gown pattern, worked with Clemmons to develop a gown that could be used by the nursing staff and laundered onsite at Cullman Regional. So far, the JELCO team has created more than 100 gowns that are currently in use at the hospital and plans to create up to 3,000 gowns for the hospital to use through the COVID-19 pandemic and to have on hand for the future.

“Our nurses will have the nicest PPE gowns in the world,” Brown said. “We are so proud of these gowns and we are excited that our team was able to work with a local industry to make this happen.”

JELCO was able to secure 50,000 yards of fabric to date and has his team of seamstresses sewing on different parts and pieces in order to mass produce the gowns quickly.

“We had to make a few modifications to the original design just to make it easier for our team to sew more quickly, but we are excited to help and be a part of the solution to make sure our local healthcare team is protected throughout this pandemic,” Clemmons said.

Cullman Regional will now have sufficient PPE gowns to carry the facility through this pandemic and meet the needs well into the future.

“Having gowns that can be laundered will not only allow us to extend our supply, but will save us valuable resources both now and into the future,” said Harding.

JELCO seamstress Joyce Harvell works hard sewing one of the new custom PPE gowns for Cullman Regional.

When asked about her important role in making this happen, Sherrie Smith simply said, “I was happy to help the Cullman Regional team. I appreciate all that they do each day, and I was glad to participate in this project.”

JELCO is currently installing a Fabric CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine to speed cutting production of material this week. The company has also purchased six additional sewing machines to help expedite the order.

“We appreciate JELCO’s willingness to step-up and help the hospital come up with a local solution to this challenge,” Cullman Regional CEO James Clements said.

Cullman Regional currently has just two COVID-19 positive patients within the facility and continues to offer testing for community members who are referred by a physician or nurse practitioner. Any patient, who feels that they meet criteria for testing and should be screened, can seek treatment through one of the following options:

  • Contact your primary care provider to see if you meet screening criteria and for a testing referral.
  • Access Cullman Regional’s FREE Virtual COVID-19 Screening Tool by “Scheduling a Virtual Visit” at Cullman Regional.com. Patients must register as a user and make a new care request.
  • Cullman Regional Urgent Care will soon launch an automated online screening tool for patients who think they may need to be tested for COVID-19. Watch for more information online at CullmanRegional.com

If you are concerned and have questions about COVID-19 and what you should do, you can call Cullman Regional’s COVID-19 information Line at (256) 735-5530 or visit CullmanRegional.com.