April 2020

UMSON Campaign Sews Masks, Sows Hope

April 9, 2020    |  

When student Maria Segovia received an email from the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON), inviting students, alumni, faculty, and staff to sew cloth masks to be donated to University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) to assist employees on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, she knew she wanted to get involved.

University of Maryland School of Nursing student Maria Segovia fires up her sewing machine to make cloth face masks as part of the school's mask donation drive.

University of Maryland School of Nursing student Maria Segovia fires up her sewing machine to make cloth face masks as part of the school's mask donation drive.

“I wanted to do it, and I wanted to make as many as I could,” said Segovia, who is scheduled to earn her BSN degree in May. “Seeing how the situation is with COVID-19, I knew it was going to be very hard for these hospitals to get the supplies they need. I thought, ‘Let’s just try to do this.’”

One slight glitch: She didn’t know how to sew.

A couple of YouTube tutorials later, and with help from her family, Segovia had created 60 cloth masks to be used by hospital workers and support staff at UMMC. (View photo gallery.)

In the last few weeks, UMSON has collected more than 3,000 cloth face masks from across the country. Packages of homemade face masks show up daily at the home of Susan G. Dorsey, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor and chair of UMSON’s Department of Pain and Translational Symptom Science, who along with volunteer Deb Greenspan, a retired seamstress for the Baltimore Ravens, launched the campaign. On April 8, a batch of 600 was dropped off at UMMC. (View video below.)

These cloth face masks, which are being provided to patients, visitors, and staff working in non-direct patient care, allow the hospital to preserve medical-grade masks for those providing direct patient care. On April 6, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) instituted a policy requiring all staff, patients, and visitors at any of the system’s 13 hospitals and other health care facilities to wear a mask at all times to prevent spread of the new coronavirus.

UMSON Dean Jane M. Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN, said the response from the school’s 19,000 alumni, plus faculty, staff, and students, has been overwhelming. The original email was passed on to friends, family, neighborhood associations, church groups, quilting clubs, and sewing circles.

“We are very pleased to have the sewing mask project,” Kirschling said. “This is an opportunity for us to give back to the clinicians who every day are providing care in the medical center. While they’re trying to juggle the dynamics of COVID-19, we wanted to do something that we could do easily from our homes, and the ability to sew cloth masks and make those available to the individuals who are working inside the medical center has meant a great deal to us.”

The masks have been fashioned from a huge variety of brightly colored cloth patterns, from holiday motifs to professional sports teams, polka dots, stripes, or whatever volunteers had on hand or have been able to purchase online.

“It's been a really nice campaign, an uplifting campaign, and sort of a vote of confidence for those who are working so hard right now as we deal with the pandemic,” Kirschling said. “Right now in this country, everybody's trying to figure out how do we navigate this, but also how do we help in terms of being able to do something tangible? And this is one way that people can, in fact, help in a very, very meaningful way.”

Dorsey and Greenspan bring batches of the masks to Lisa Rowen, DNSc, RN, CENP, FAAN, chief nurse executive for UMMS, senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer for UMMC, and an adjunct professor at UMSON, who distributes them inside the hospital.

“Today, we are here thanking our amazing community partners,” Rowen said before entering the hospital to deliver 600 masks. “They are our external family who are supporting our internal University of Maryland Medical Center family by making these amazing, beautiful, wonderful cloth masks for us. The masks are very much needed because we are keeping our medical-grade masks for our staff. And this way, all of us who are not taking care of patients directly are able to have a barrier and protection and it keeps our environment safer.”

Dorsey and Greenspan thought up the idea for the cloth mask donation drive during a virtual happy hour, said Dorsey, who then contacted Kirschling and Rowen. Since then, “it’s just been an overwhelming community response,” Dorsey said.

“In less than 24 hours, it went from an idea to a reality, and in 48 hours, it became a movement,” added Greenspan. Her mother, “on the high side of 80,” has been making masks, too.

“It’s been really good for not just my mom, but everybody we’ve talked to via email says that working on the masks helps them feel like they’re doing something to help people and that it also keeps them from feeling so isolated, and I think that’s amazing,” she said.

Lynn Pistel, BSN ’76, was also more than happy to help.

“I got the email from the School of Nursing and I thought, ‘This is something I can do,’” said Pistel, who has made about 50 masks and has no plans of stopping. “I felt like I could not make them fast enough to help the guys and girls out there” on the front lines.