COVID-19 Leads Arizona Businesses To Innovate For Doctors, Community

By Katie Campbell
Published: Thursday, April 30, 2020 - 7:36am
Updated: Thursday, April 30, 2020 - 7:37am

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Dr. Benjamin Reeser
Benjamin Reeser
Dr. Benjamin Reeser

Health care professionals face a heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19, particularly when performing procedures like intubation.

A tube is inserted into a patient’s airway and connected to a ventilator. In the process, microscopic droplets are released into the air, potentially exposing the three or more professionals needed for the procedure.

“All of those particles just come flying straight up into the physician and all the other staff’s face. And it can just cause a whole lot of exposure,” said Dr. Benjamin Reeser, an emergency room physician at several Abrazo Health campuses in the Phoenix area. 

He says doctors tried to come up with a solution, even using clear trash bags to create a barrier.

But that wasn’t good enough to make Reeser and his colleagues feel safe. The coronavirus had changed the way they thought about their well-being. He saw his own colleagues return to the hospital as patients. 

“It’s really had us take a step back and become a lot more aware of our own mortality and our own safety and that of our immediate family and friends and our own circle,” he said.

He thought about his 18-month-old daughter, who could be heard in the background.

So, he found a solution online: open-source plans by a Taiwanese doctor for a special box that could be placed over a patient during intubation.

Plans for a DIY intubation box
Urban Plough
Open-source plans are available online for DIY intubation boxes. The boxes are designed to protect medical professionals from microscopic particles released during the intubation process.

It was a simple design, but not something Reeser could create on his own. 

Arizona companies stepped up.

Reeser first took his design to Phoenix-based mattress company, Tuft & Needle, which has built and donated dozens of intubation boxes to hospitals across the Valley using his plans. Hundreds more have been sent across the country with the help of additional partners. 

Melanie LaDue leads Tuft & Needle’s community outreach program. 

Intubation box demo
Benjamin Reeser
Dr. Benjamin Reeser demonstrates how to use the intubation box.

“This is a brand new experience for us,” she says. “It was time for us to think outside the box.”

She says the boxes certainly didn’t involve the materials and processes behind mattress-making. But the company had access to the resources Reeser needed. 

That’s the kind of connection that many makers have had to make to step up in this moment. And it’s the sort of connection that entrepreneur Sidnee Peck, chief of staff at renewable water company Zero Mass Water, says could make or break a company as we move past the crisis.

“On average, most companies aren’t directly involved in things related to the pandemic, right?” Peck said. “Most companies were not originally making face masks or gowns. And there are all these opportunities to connect to seemingly unconnected things. And when you can do that, that is where a lot of leaders can stumble on some really powerful innovation.”

Peck says it’s vital that local businesses change their activities to support what people need today. 

“And then, it’s even more vital beyond that to think how does this impact my long-term strategy,” she adds. 

For Matthew Moore, founder of Urban Plough Furniture, the arrival of COVID-19 meant his long-term plan — or at least the next six months of work — disappeared practically overnight.

His firm produces a lot of designs for the hospitality industry and offices spaces that were suddenly empty.   

“And magically, Dr. Reeser shows up at our doorstep,” Moore said. 

Intubation box
Benjamin Reeser
A medical team uses an intubation box over a patient.

Like Tuft & Needle, Moore’s company has been producing the intubation boxes at cost and donating them to doctors in need — they’re not making up for lost profits. But he says the work has given him purpose. 

“I come from a farming background, so acts of god are what you grow up with,” he said. “You just have to lean into it and just will your business to move forward, because it’s saving lives.” 

Peck says that mentality is likely to pay off for the businesses who use this time not only to reimagine their business models but also their places in our community.

“The backbone to our local communities are our local businesses, and so they are doing two things,” she said. “One, recognizing that we’re all one, and we’re all in this together. And so, what can they provide to their local communities. And two, is to do their fiscal duty as a company, which is to stay alive.”

Moore hopes these efforts will pay off for everyone in the end. 

“Every year, when a farmer takes a handful of seed and plants it in the ground, that is the biggest act of hope that you can imagine,” he says. “And I hope that we start to galvanize around hope and ingenuity and a vision of the future that can be better.” 

Only time will tell.

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