Yakima warehouse makes 500,000 hospital gowns a month, ships nationwide

YAKIMA, Wash. — As hospitals across the nation face shortages of personal protective equipment, an international food packaging company is using its Yakima warehouse to manufacture hospital gowns for healthcare professionals in areas with desperate need.

With less than three weeks’ planning and preparation, Novolex is making about 500,000 gowns a month in Yakima alone using machines which typically produce bags for food, birdseed and ice melt bags.

“The driving force was simply we wanted to do the right thing and help out where we could,” said Galen Killam, Senior Technology and Product Manager at Novolex. “We saw the need and the capability to take … specific machines and put them together and make gowns that would be useful for the COVID response.”

As production ramps up, Killam said the company anticipates increasing that capacity to turn out about 1.5 million to 2 million gowns a month at the Yakima plant. The gowns come in a long-sleeve and a sleeveless version.

Other plants — including those in Brampton, Ontario  in Canada – are working on producing visors and head gear for face shields, which serve as an additional layer of protection against COVID-19.

The visors for Novolex’s face shields are cut from plastic sheets normally used to make clear cake containers; the head gear is produced from machines usually dedicated to making plastic plates and cutlery.

“We’re working with the healthcare distributors to get them where they are in the most serious need.” Killam said.

Killam said all the personal protective equipment is currently being sold at a “very fair price” to health care networks in states at the center of the pandemic, including New Hampshire, California, New York, Texas and Georgia.

“Part of this response is … a balance of doing the right thing for the COVID-19 need and also doing the right thing for our families and making sure that they’re fed and keeping healthy and alive as well,” Killam said.

Killam said health care professionals have been grateful for the work they’re doing and how fast they’ve put it all together

“They realize that this is a very quick development for us,” Killam said. “It’s been two-and-a-half weeks … nothing happens that fast usually.”

Killam said this type of production change on this scale would usually take engineers six to eight months to plan and implement.

“The engineers that I’m working with are really really bright,” Killam said. “The Yakima team is doing phenomenal work in that plant for us, so we’re really proud of them.”

The Yakima production team is receiving assistance from other Novolex plants in Fairfield, Ohio and Coldwater, Ohio.

“For me the good part is absolutely that we’re seeing people use our things in a time of need,” Killam said. “We’re all working pretty hard and pretty long hours to get this done, but it’s worth it.”