PITTSFIELD — With help from Sabic Innovative Plastics, employees at Berkshire Health Systems now have an extra layer of personal protective equipment to shield them the coronavirus while they're on the job.
Sabic recently provided BHS with 250 "face shields" that employees can put over their heads to cover their eyes, nose, mouth and ears while administering to patients. These face shields fit over both surgical masks and N95 masks.
"It's a full piece of protective gear," said Jack Henault, the supplies director for BHS.
Sabic had reached out to BHS, parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, about supplying their employees with the face shields on the recommendation of local Sabic employee Donna Hanson, Henault said. Hanson asked Sabic to donate the face shields in memory of her father, Alfonso Cirillo, who died in March. Cirillo, who was 91, was a former General Electric Co. employee.
"Sabic has long been a part of the Pittsfield community and at times like these, we are happy to be able to provide necessary equipment to help protect those serving on the front lines of this health crisis," said Greg Adams, Sabic's vice president for the Americas, in a statement. "The face shields can be used by healthcare workers to help reduce exposure to COVID-19 or other infectious materials."
"We're very, very pleased and we're very thankful to have a business like Sabic help us in this manner," said BHS spokesman Michael Leary.
All BHS employees are eligible to wear the face shields, Henault said, but they are currently being used by BMC employees who work in the critical care unit, the emergency department and on floors that include COVID-19 patients.
"It fully protects their eyes, nose and mouth from any aerosolizing procedures; anything that's floating in the air," Henault said. "Our staff and physicians love them."
The first face shields that BHS received were commercial face shields, made by the Harbor Freight hardware store chain, which Sabic helped to retrofit to fit better, Leary said. Harbor Freight has an outlet in Pittsfield.
But the final 200 shields have all been made by Sabic. The shields themselves are made of Lexan plastic, a material that was invented in Pittsfield in 1953 by polymer chemist Dan Fox of GE Plastics. A transparent plastic, Lexan is also used in compact discs, baby bottles and construction materials.
BHS officials have met with Sabic staff to tweak the original design based on recommendations from BMC employees.
"Sabic worked to improve the ergonomic design of the face shields to provide more comfort for healthcare workers," Adams said.
"Each time they come out they fit a little bit better," Henault said.
Sabic Innovative Plastics came to Pittsfield in 2007 when its parent company, Sabic Basic Industries, purchased GE Plastics for $11.6 billion. Sabic then moved most of its local employees to Houston in 2016, vacating GE's former administrative complex on Plastics Avenue in the process.
But the company still maintains a small local presence in the Polymer Processing Center, also known as Building 100, on Merrill Road, which is still owned by GE.
When asked if Sabic plans to provide face shields or other personal protective equipment for other businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Adams said, "stay tuned."
Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-281-2755.