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Gown Project Q&A with former NAVMC Executive Director

We made more than 4,000 hospital gowns in 2020. Those sustainable, reusable gowns, in high-demand during the COVID-19 Pandemic were stitched up to fill an order from Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps.

In an interview with Molly Brown, then the Executive Director of NAVMC, we learned more about how our partnership helped to meet important community needs.

Q: We'll start off broadly. What is NAVMC, for folks who might not know?

A: We are a team of medical and humanitarian volunteers providing care for children and families in Northern Arizona and countries across the globe, Haiti and Bolivia specifically, in recent years. We provide medical and surgical care, education, food, housing, PPE, and financial assistance where the need is the greatest.

Q: What was the PPE situation like before your partnership with Threaded Together?

A: The situation was dire. In March, when COVID-19 was first escalating, NAVMC volunteers, most of whom are frontline healthcare workers in our Arizona communities, began to experience a dwindling supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) in their facilities, particularly on tribal lands. All PPE, but especially isolation gowns, were being used up at alarming rates, and replacement supplies were becoming impossible to find. Without these supplies, health workers were being forced to reuse or under-use gowns, which increased the risk of transmission for themselves, their patients, and our entire community. NAVMC tried a few options for gown production before finding Threaded Together and was so lucky that this amazing team agreed to take on the enormous project of manufacturing thousands of isolation gowns. Together, we were able to move quickly and efficiently to get gowns made and delivered to where they needed to go.

Q: How did the journey begin? How did NAVMC first connect with Threaded Together?

A: Honestly, I don’t even remember. This gown project went from 0 to 40 in what seemed like minutes, and all of a sudden I was finding as much material as I could get my hands on while the incredible team at Threaded Together was producing bags and bags of gowns every week. One week, I remember, I picked up over 300 gowns.

Q: How has NAVMC responded to the pandemic? How has that differed from other efforts, in places like Haiti?

A: It is frustrating for our team not to be able to travel to the places where we have colleagues, patients, and friends that we work with to serve an unending need for surgical care. But these connections have allowed us to maintain our support for the communities we serve during the pandemic. In Bolivia, for example, we funded and arranged for food aid delivery to the entire village of Palacios, which was experiencing widespread hunger due to strict lockdowns. In Haiti, we have continued to support the education of every child at Renmen Foundation, an orphanage in Port-au-Prince.

Q: Tell us about the gown project from your point of view.

A: This pandemic hit healthcare facilities, especially on tribal lands, so hard and so fast that it has been impossible for them to respond to the new situation without help. The partnership between NAVMC, Threaded Together and Angel Flight West (a group of volunteer pilots that flies our gowns to locations all over tribal lands) provides high-quality, reusable isolation gowns to fill both the immediate and long-term need of these facilities when and where they are needed most. We have heard from many of the recipients of our gowns: healthcare workers who are so grateful to have what they need to protect themselves, their families, and their patients.

Q: When the gowns leave our shop, what happens next?

A: Gowns leave Threaded Together and are loaded into my teeny, tiny car. From there, they are delivered by car to closer facilities or are brought to the Flagstaff airport to be picked up by volunteer pilots to fly them to the farthest corners of Arizona. Our gowns have served 12 tribal healthcare facilities:

Gallup Indian Medical Center

Tuba City Regional Health Care Center

Northern Navajo Medical Center

Tsehootsooi Medical Center

Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility

Kayenta Health Center

Crownpoint Healthcare Facility

Hopi Health Care Center

Winslow Indian Health Service

Little Colorado Medical Center

Zuni Comprehensive Health Center

Whiteriver Indian Health Service

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add or tell us?

A: This has been such a challenging year, and for many non-profits, it has meant re-imagining every aspect of our work. We have been unable to operate as we have in the past. We have watched new needs spring up at every turn, which we have faced with limited resources and staff, kids at home, and the looming uncertainty of what the future will bring. I am so proud of what NAVMC and Threaded Together were able to accomplish. The flexibility, creativity, generosity, and perseverance of this team take my breath away.

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