Handmade: Livonia's Angela Hospice volunteers show they care

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

A group of volunteers at Angela Hospice in Livonia are busy putting their sewing skills to work making personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical professionals working at the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Angela Hospice, which provides care for nearly 3,000 at-home "end of life patients" a year, now has an entire wing at its 32-bed, in-patient care center, dedicated to COVID-19 patients. The center is also caring for COVID-19 patients in their homes.

Livonia resident Margot Parr, former president and CEO of Angela Hospice, who's now retired and serving as an active volunteer with the center, is coordinating the much-needed sewing project which, so far, has resulted in over 3,500 masks and 400 gowns.

A medical staff worker dons a gown and mask made by volunteers at Angela Hospice in Livonia.

"Angela has a total of 400 volunteers. We put out an email blast and had 60 sewers who wanted to be part of this project," said Parr. "We talked about making the cotton masks, but definitely it's not going to do for the type of exposure that our health team is dealing with, so, we are actually making our masks out of a surgical grade, non-woven material." It's water repellent, so it's an excellent fabric that is typically used in the hospitals." It's actually a three-ply material with two blue outer layers of Spunbound Meltblown Spunbound (SMS) and a middle layer of spunbound polypropylene. They use the same material for making the gowns which are available in a range of sizes.

Finding the medical grade material was difficult, but Parr said she visited a site for veterinarian supplies and found it in 100-feet rolls. She said, "I managed to get a lot of the fabric that we needed for the initial (batch), but now others have figured it out. Fortunately, we were 24 hours ahead of others!" 

Parr, who learned to sew on a treadle sewing machine when she was six, designed the pattern for making both the masks and gowns, in addition to putting together an instructional video for constructing the masks. As a sewing enthusiasts, she knew a serger would provide a better "finish," the durability and tightly-closed seams needed for making the gowns. So, it's the "smaller pool of those (volunteers) with sergers" who are making the gowns.

"These nurses are going in and providing patient care and having direct contact with bacteria, blood and other fluids," stated Parr, who herself has had years of first-hand experience in such situations.

At age 18, Parr joined the U.S. Army where she served as a medic with the 44th Medical Brigade, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. She also holds a nursing degree and has "spent the past 38 years in various healthcare leadership positions." Therefore, it was her extensive medical background that made her knowledgeable about the need for a water repellent material to offer the maximum personal protection.

"The gowns," she said, "are reusable, but typically, people just dispose of them. We've gotten multiple washes. You can even bleach them, but they can't take a hot dryer because they will melt under high heat."

Since mid-march, Parr has been putting together kits for making the masks and gowns. "I cut the yardage, and the elastic, which is probably the hardest thing to get. The masks also have wire across the nose," she stated. The 18-gauge wire is ordered from Amazon, and all the materials used are provided by "generous donors" and Angela Hospice, which is a non-profit organization.

Parr drops off kits to volunteers at their homes and picks up the finished masks and gowns, which are then taken to Angela Hospice where they are washed and distributed.

Teri Schmitchen, Director of Volunteers at Angela Hospice, said, "This (project) has been a monumental undertaking which has provided safety and security for our clinical team. Margot is one of the most humble people I have ever met, but without her vision and direction, this would not have been possible."

Parr hopes to continue the mask and gown making project as long as it's needed. 

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact Teri Schmitchen, Director of Volunteer Services at Angela Hospice (14100 Newburgh, Livonia), at (734) 464-8609. Email: tschmitchen@angelahospice.us.