Sonoma County contractor pulls together hundreds of N95 masks for local hospitals treating coronavirus patients
As concerns rise among health care professionals over the shortage of N95 safety masks and other protective devices, Ghilotti Construction Company has stepped up to help fill the gap by canvassing hospitals and then finding masks to purchase and donate to medical centers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“This started when President Trump asked U.S. construction companies to donate respirator masks to hospitals and other health care providers,” said Willie Ghilotti, co-owner and area superintendent of the Santa Rosa-based general engineering contractor.
He said over the past several days alone, the company has donated more than 560 masks to regional hospitals. The first request came to CEO Dick Ghilotti from Mike Stone, owner of the Mollie Stone Grocery Store, who is on the board of directors of Marin General Hospital, asking if Ghilotti Construction had any N95 masks in stock. They received 10 boxes containing a total of 100 masks.
“We have been calling other hospitals to determine their needs and then contacting leading suppliers to find available inventory,” Willie Ghilotti said. “With Marin General, we also shared our multiple vendor contact list so they could deal directly, along with a list showing quantities they have available, since hospitals may only have relationships with just a few vendors.”
Ghilotti said that while hospitals are the government’s first priority, there is a gap in communications and coordination when it comes to distributing available masks.
“Our vice president, Brad Simpkins, was contacted by some of our clients, including Facebook, Level 10 and Webcor, to enlist their support in helping to donate masks to local hospitals in Silicon Valley Area when they heard what GCC was doing.”
The word spread fast. Cyndi Krahne, with Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa, called the company asking for masks and received four boxes. Julie Goyke with Adventist Health Howard Memorial Hospital in Willits also received four boxes. Jeanine Janet at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital heard the construction company donated to Kaiser. Ghilotti rounded up eight cases for Memorial’s 4 West, 1 Center, their designated COVID-19 department. Another call came from staff members at Kaiser Permanente San Rafael, that will receive six boxes.
He said often when masks can be found, there can be a limit of two 10-mask boxes per person.
“We started reaching out to vendors to find more N95 masks, which are almost as rare as gold, as well as other items such as disinfecting wipes, toilet paper, Lysol spray, etc., knowing that our chances might be slim to find any,” Ghilotti said.
Company superintendents and foreman from San Jose to Concord, Hayward and the North Bay are dispatching company employees to go buy a la carte quantities of N95 from a wide variety of potential sources.
In one instance, Dick Ghilotti and Simpkins were attending a meeting in Concord and while there were able to stop by a HD Supply/White Cap store to pick up some masks.
A quick survey of traditional North Bay N95 mask retail and wholesale outlets found that most are out of stock, have masks on backorder, and cannot say when they will receive shipments, or in what quantities.
According to Ghilotti, despite the shortage, some local companies still may have some N95 masks on hand, such as HD Supply/White Cap and Friedman’s Home Improvement in Santa Rosa. Other local providers that might have masks include Pace Supply, SiteOne, Landscape Supply, Rotech, Jim-N-I Rentals, Fire Safety Supply, Santa Rosa Fire Equipment Services and Smart Foodservice.
Hardware stores, like ACE, DHC Supplies, and big box retailers such as The Home Depot and Costco Wholesale may have masks, along with drugstores CVS and Walgreens. Medical centers are being advised to call first to determine if masks are currently in stock and how many they may allow each customer to buy. Costs average approximately $3.95 per mask.
Another complication affecting the supply chain’s ability to provide masks arises when U.S. firms have been relying on foreign suppliers for personal protection devices. There has been a shortfall in these imports due to a slowdown in production and shipments from Asia.
This demand has emerged at a time when the U.S. government is announcing that some 3 million or more masks are needed now, with plans to shift manufacturing production to domestic providers.
On the national level, major suppliers are giving first priority to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, American Red Cross, Department of Health and Human Services and other governmental agencies when it comes to receiving masks.
While large personnel protection vendors routinely sell to local distributors and not directly to consumers, they may be relaxing their policies in light of the current crisis. This vendor category includes 3M, Alpha Protech, Bullard, Condor, Elvex, First Aid Only, Grainger, Honeywell Fibre-Metal, Honeywell North, Honeywell Uvex, Jackson Safety, Kask, MCR Safety, Medsource, NSA, Oberon Company, Petzl, Pyramex, Salisbury, Sellstrom, SP Scienceware, Tasco, United Shield and V-Gard.
Buyers must beware. Whenever there is a shortage, there will be those trying to cash in by attempting to market fake medical supplies and counterfeit devices. Fox News reported that 120 arrests have been made so far among those trying to sell tens of millions of dollars of bogus products.
“The construction industry is always proud to help our local communities, especially during emergencies such as in 2017 with the Tubbs fire, the 2019 Kinkaid fire and during other crisis situations,” Ghilotti said. “We hope others will donate and generously support our medical service providers. The only thing that should be contagious is giving.”