As the last students vacated campus on March 18, Laboratory Instructor in Chemistry Ren Bernier was scouring an empty Druckenmiller Hall for gloves, face shields and cotton swabs. The personal protective equipment (PPE) that Bernier and other instructors, technicians and professors gathered from labs across campus will be donated to MaineHealth, a Portland-based medical supplier, to augment depleted supplies of critical protective equipment in hospitals throughout Maine.
In total, Bernier coordinated the collection of more than 40,000 disposable gloves, several cases of sterile cotton swabs and a box of face shields.
“Currently, the labs are quiet,” Bernier said in a phone interview with the Orient. “[The items] went where they needed to go.”
Bernier reserved a modest supply of gloves to tide students through a few months of the fall semester, but he will donate those too if the demand at hospitals increases.
“If [hospitals] need them, certainly they can have them, but I kept them so that we could start up as soon as we get the word [about fall classes],” Bernier said.
On the administrative end, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Stephen Perkinson helped coordinate and oversee the collection effort.
“[I] was able to serve as a go-between between lab instructors, faculty and the administration—gathering assurances, for instance, that staff had permission to do this,” Perkinson wrote in an email to the Orient.
“Bowdoin understood that the current priority is the health of our larger community and the safety of health professionals,” he wrote. Perkinson reassured staff members that they “can feel secure emptying those cabinets knowing that they had the blessing of their employer and that the critical equipment would be replaced when the time comes [and] when we’re fortunate enough to begin teaching in our labs again!”
Inspired by the efforts in science departments, Perkinson reached out to the visual arts department, the theater and dance department, the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and the Bowdoin Museum of Art.
“This made me realize that we had PPEs all over the place,” Perkinson wrote.
In the Edwards Center for Art and Dance, Visual Arts Technician Colleen Kinsella worked with faculty members to put together boxes of N-95 masks from the woodshop and nitrile gloves from studio spaces. Perkinson delivered these supplies, along with a cache of gloves from the Roux Center for the Environment, straight to Maine MidCoast Hospital.
By the end of a week of collection efforts, Perkinson had made five separate trips to the donation center set up at MidCoast’s Maine Street office building.
Though only 30 patients have been hospitalized with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Maine, the donations will help MidCoast prepare to accommodate more patients in the coming weeks and months.
“While our current supplies are not exhausted, having additional variety and sizes is helpful to ensure more people are getting the protection they need,” Judith Kelsh, senior director of marketing communications for MidCoast, wrote in an email to the Orient. “As we prepare for supply shortages that other part[s] of the country are experiencing, we are grateful for community partnerships such as this that will help us to keep our PPE supplies at adequate levels.”
The supplies donated by the College will be put into use immediately, according to Kelsh, and will join a growing collection of donated equipment as Maine residents pitch in to help health-care workers contend with a rising number of patients hospitalized due to coronavirus.
“On one of my drop-offs, the MidCoast staff member who was there keeping an eye on things told me that they were getting donations from all sorts of folks,” Perkinson wrote. “In fact the local boat-building industries had supplies of masks, gloves, and tyvek body suits that they were able to donate.”
Kelsh encouraged students and other members of the College community to explore the help page on MidCoast’s website if they are interested in supporting the hospital during what is, in her words, an “unprecedented challenging time.”