Mask basket

Masks donated by the Ketchikan community are made available and  handed out to medical staff on May 15 during a barbecue in recognition of National Nurses Week in the Ken C. Eichner Healing Garden at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Ketchikan confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus in March.

Since the arrival of the virus in the First City, local organizations and caregivers on the front lines of fighting COVID-19 have received support through volunteers and donations.  

When the Daily News spoke with multiple community agencies about the support they have received from the community during the ongoing pandemic, the most notable impact on Ketchikan’s front-line responders were donations of personal protective equipment, which came in many forms.

The donations and creation of PPE have gone beyond sharing N95 masks — handmade cloth masks, cloth isolation gowns and Tyvek isolation gowns also gained popularity.

Additionally, community members also became involved by donating services and their own time.

PeaceHealth and personal protective equipment shortages

According to Tim Walker, “the community saved the community” when it came to donating reusable PPE during a time of low supply.

Walker, a supply chain manager at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, told the Daily News during a Thursday phone interview that the facility had been suffering from PPE shortages since the beginning of the year.

“Things started to get a little bit tough in January, because all the supply chain in China (was) being diverted back to China,” Walker explained.

Walker said that typically, PeaceHealth orders its PPE through an automated computer system. The system places an order for PPE when the inventory reaches a certain number, and the task is completed in seconds.

As the coronavirus spread — but before it arrived in Ketchikan — Walker said “it was starting to take minutes and hours to place orders.”

As the pandemic progressed, it became harder to receive full orders of the supplies that the hospital needed to continue its operations and be prepared to handle COVID-19.

“If we were lucky, we’d get two or three cases (of PPE) out of an order of 15,” Walker said. “Most often, we would get nothing.”

Walker estimated that PeaceHealth was receiving 20% to 30% of the necessary PPE — such as masks and isolation gowns — that were requested.

PeaceHealth Emergency Department Director Ed Eppler also attributed the PPE shortage to complications that resulted from the Port of Seattle “essentially” shutting down when the coronavirus spread to Washington state.

During a separate phone interview with the Daily News, Dr. Eppler said that the situation was compounded when Alaska Airlines reduced its flights and the amount of cargo it would transport per each flight.

Eppler said that the local “quilting clubs and the sewing clubs rose to the occasion within days and were making us cloth masks, cloth gowns and Tyvek gowns.”

Walker explained that the donations of washable cloth masks helped to replenish and save PPE inventory for the hospital.

“What (the donations) did for us is we were able to use the reusable stuff, and it saved us from having to use (disposable) masks all the time,” Walker said. “So, we were able to use our disposable masks for the COVID-19 patients. So where we really needed the disposable stuff, we had a small stock.”

Walker noted that PPE inventory for PeaceHealth is now at numbers where the facility can adequately protect staff and caregivers.

“Had the community not pitched in in the middle of March, we’d be in a lot worse shape right now,” he said.

Eppler said that even though inventory has improved, “we still have them in supplies in case things go south again, if the coronavirus rears its head again for us.”

PeaceHealth and other donations

While the community surged forward to donate handmade protective items, other local agencies came forward to donate their own PPE, according to Bett Union-Jakubek of the Ketchikan Medical Center Foundation.

Local dentist offices, Madison Lumber and Hardware, and Tyler Rental all supplied masks.

“People just came to the hospital dropping off anything from two N95 masks that they had purchased at some point and never used, to cartons and boxes of them, or just whatever they had that they put in there,” Jakubek said during a phone interview earlier this month.

Jakubek also said that Walmart assisted PeaceHealth in replenishing its stock of hand sanitizer.

Jakubek estimated that the Rainy Day Quilters Guild and other community crafters had donated over 2,000 cloth face masks, with PeaceHealth claiming 600-800 of these masks.

Jakubek also explained that local seamstresses created patterns for isolation gowns made of Tyvek. Two hundred of these gowns were created for the hospital.

PeaceHealth also received donations of food and lodging for caregivers.

Jakubek said that local hotels offered rooms and meals to individuals or front-line caregivers needing to isolate.

Jakubek noted that in honor of Mother’s Day earlier this month, Coastal Realty and The Landing Hotel bought flowers for every mother in PeaceHealth’s long term care unit, as well as every mother who works at the hospital.

Jakubek said that restaurants and community members also had been providing meals “that just show up in the emergency room.”

“People who lived here years ago and were concerned for the caregivers, calling in to the restaurants and ordering from like Florida and sending meals to our department, meals to the first responders, all the hospital staff,” Jakubek elaborated. “It was just amazing.”

“Sometimes we know where they come from, sometimes we don’t,” she said of the surprise.

Jakubek said that she was proud of Ketchikan and that “there was no template for this” situation.

“Everyone’s doing what they can,” she said, adding that she believed there were “little heroes everywhere.”

Donations to the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center

Earlier this week, Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center Public Information Officer Kacie Paxton supplied the Daily News with a list of different ways the community has supported the EOC during the pandemic.

Paxton’s list stated that the KMC Foundation donated a supply of cloth face masks to the animal shelter and other vulnerable populations in the community.

Additionally, local artist Matt Hamilton created two banners that promoted social distancing measures.

Paxton’s email to the Daily News indicated that the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Coast Guard Base Ketchikan, Creekside Family Health Clinic, PeaceHealth and Seapro all “donated staff time” to the EOC.

The radio stations KFMJ, KRBD, KTKN and KGTW supplied the EOC with airtime and public service announcements, according to Paxton’s email.

Love in Action

Love in Action Executive Director Lisa Scarborough told the Daily News that while the organization hasn’t seen donations of masks, there has been an uptick in other donated items.

“We have seen a very high increase in donations in the last six weeks,” Scarborough said during a Monday morning phone interview, adding that it was more than she had ever seen donated during one period of time.

Mostly, Scarborough said, the donations have been financial, although some people have donated food items.

Scarborough said that these donations help to provide Love in Action clients with food deliveries, toiletries, cleaning items and diapers.

Salvation Army Gateway Corps

The Salvation Army Gateway Corps in Ketchikan has seen increased donations of food and supplies to its soup kitchen, according to Capt. Sam Fowler.

Fowler also said that many volunteers began cooking meals for clients from their homes to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

The Hunger Bag program at Safeway also made an impact, Fowler said. The program happens every winter through the store, and uses donations to help deliver a bag of food to individuals in need.

“The community gave really generously to that program,” he said.