Benefis Teton Medical Center received 10 personal protective equipment gowns from Simms Fishing Products through the Montana Hospital Association.

The two groups teamed up to get needed personal protective equipment (PPE) into the hands of front-line healthcare workers in the state’s most vulnerable areas: rural and older communities.

Simms Fishing Products has manufactured 400 reusable isolation gowns using technical two-layer and three-layer waterproof, breathable fabric, donated by Mervin Manufacturing, that meets the requirements agreed upon with hospital officials. The company is donating the gowns to MHA. MHA, through a grant from the Montana Bioscience Cluster Fourth F. Fund, is immediately shipping the gowns to more than 40 critical access hospitals across the state.

“While Montana has had a successful public health response to COVID-19 to date, we are not out of the woods yet,” said Rich Rasmussen, president and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association. “Until we have a vaccine, the testing capacity we need and contact tracing infrastructure to contain future cases, Montana must remain vigilant. Montana hospitals will not rest, but will continue to shore up our preparation for the next lightning strike of cases to hit our state.”

Because of their size and low volume of orders during typical, non-pandemic times, Montana’s rural hospitals have faced heightened challenges acquiring PPE. Hospitals have addressed global supply chain shortages through cooperative in-state arrangement, aggressive group personnel, as well as by working with local manufactures to pivot production toward needed medical equipment.

“Through our connections at the state level, we learned about the need for PPE in our rural communities,” Diane Bristo, Simms senior director of employees and community engagement. “Montanans are resourceful and want to help our neighbors. With the donation of fabric from the Mervin Manufacturing, we are able to support these communities and the folks on the front line.”