A new collaboration will produce nearly 2 million N95 respirators per year to address the urgent need for affordable access to essential PPE in communities that need them most.
Organizations from both the public and private sector have teamed up to launch the Made in NC initiative, a collaboration between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), North Carolina State University’s Nonwovens Institute, Freudenberg Performance Materials, UNC Health, the NC Healthcare Association Strategic Partners and NC Medical Society to manufacture and distribute N95 respirators that will serve the needs of North Carolina health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and increase equity in access to masks in communities that need them most.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for N95 respirators and other PPE has outpaced current U.S. manufacturing capabilities, resulting in supply chain challenges in delivering an efficient and reliable source at a reasonable cost. The shortage of critical supplies has left health care providers and essential workers at a higher risk of infection.
The Made in NC collaboration will produce an initial 100,000 to 200,000 N95 respirators per month with plans to quickly ramp up, right here in North Carolina, providing a more consistent and affordable source of personal protective equipment (PPE) for local health care providers. Collaborating organizations include:
- Blue Cross NC provided an initial investment of $450,000 for the purchase of two mask molding machines capable of producing safe and reliable N95 respirators locally, as well as for the procurement of materials and supplies used for the production of these respirators.
- NC State’s Nonwovens Institute (NWI) developed a new, unique spunbond material that is cost-efficient and serves as an effective filter for N95 respirators without the need for additional filtration layers, in addition to a unique meltblown filter media for N95 respirators.
- Freudenberg Performance Materials will provide the manufacturing expertise and workforce needed to install, operate and maintain the new converting lines in North Carolina.
- UNC Health infection prevention experts will perform fit testing to ensure respirators meet industry health and safety standards.
- NC Healthcare Association Strategic Partners and NC Medical Society will provide support for purchase and distribution.
The initiative aims to ensure the state’s frontline health care workers receive the critical PPE they need to keep themselves and their communities safe.
“Blue Cross NC is committed to the health and well-being of all North Carolinians, and we are proud to be part of this initiative to ensure that vital PPE remains available to frontline health care workers in the continued fight against COVID-19,” said Dr. Tunde Sotunde, President and CEO at Blue Cross NC. “This unique collaboration brings together health care, education and private industry at an unprecedented time to help solve an unpredictable challenge. We are all working together toward a common goal of protecting those who continue to protect the people and communities across our state.”
“NC State is committed to getting our research into the hands of North Carolinians to make a real difference,” said NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson. “We’re proud to work with our public and private partners to deliver innovative solutions through the Made in NC initiative.”
“The NCMS is fully supportive of local solutions like this,” said North Carolina Medical Society Executive Vice President and CEO Chip Baggett. “We look forward to helping ensure these affordable N95 respirators get to impacted communities throughout the state.”
Collaboration among Blue Cross NC, NC State’s Nonwovens Institute, Freudenberg Performance Materials, UNC Health, NC Healthcare Association Strategic Partners and NC Medical Society ensures the expertise needed to achieve careful production and distribution at the highest quality and safety standards to increase equity in access to masks, especially in communities that need them most.
“Our North Carolina health care providers and frontline workers need more reliable sources of PPE at reasonable and predictable prices – exactly the goal of this collaboration,” said Dr. Wesley Burks, CEO of UNC Health. “The top priority at all times is the safety of our frontline workers, especially during this pandemic. N95 masks are among the most important tools because they filter out droplets and smaller airborne particles that can carry viruses.”
The installed machines are expected to produce up to 2 million N95 respirators per year.
“This is a great opportunity for us to make a big difference in our community. We have a talented team and dedicated resources to fully support us in this task,” said Raoul Farer, General Manager, RBU North America, Freudenberg Performance Materials. “To be able to add to our workforce in these challenging times and build a new operation from the ground up has given us a new purpose and we are looking forward to building lasting relationships through this initiative.”
As masks become available, the NC Healthcare Association Strategic Partners and NC Medical Society will conduct outreach to providers who may lack staffing capacity and contacts to place accelerated orders.
“From our largest hospitals to our smallest medical providers, the need for quality N95 masks is great across our state as this pandemic continues,” said Jody Fleming, Senior Vice President, North Carolina Healthcare Association Strategic Partners. “This effort allows our health care heroes across North Carolina to purchase masks made in North Carolina, which means they’ll get the vital equipment they need much faster and can effectively serve our patients.”
When worn properly, single-use N95 respirators are a critical form of PPE that protects both patients and health care providers due to its efficient filtration of airborne particles that can carry viruses and other contaminants.
“The Nonwovens Institute engages leaders from industry, government and higher education to build next-generation nonwoven applications,” said Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi, Executive Director of the Nonwovens Institute at NC State. “Through these collaborations, we are pleased to provide our novel materials to create solutions for communities across North Carolina in the continued fight against COVID-19.”
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) is committed to making health care better, simpler and more affordable. We have been driving better health in North Carolina for generations, working to tackle our communities’ greatest health challenges. We serve our customers and communities of more than 3.8 million members, including approximately 1.1 million served on behalf of other Blue Plans. Blue Cross NC is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Visit Blue Cross NC online at www.bluecrossnc.com. All other marks are the property of their respective owners.
About North Carolina State University’s Nonwovens Institute
The Nonwovens Institute is the world’s first accredited academic program for the interdisciplinary field of engineered fabrics. Based at NC State’s Centennial Campus, the NWI is an innovative global partnership between industry, government and academe. Operating on an “Open Innovation” platform, the Nonwovens Institute engages experts from industry and higher education in building next-generation nonwoven applications while also providing training and guidance to the field’s future leaders. For more information visit https://thenonwovensinstitute.com/.
About Freudenberg Performance Materials
Freudenberg Performance Materials is a leading global supplier of innovative technical textiles for a broad range of markets and applications such as apparel, automotive, building interiors, building materials, healthcare, energy, filter media, shoe and leather goods as well as specialties. The Business Group generated sales of 890 million euros in 2019. Today, Freudenberg Performance Materials has 35 production sites around the world in 15 countries and has some 5,500 employees. Freudenberg Performance Materials attaches great importance to social and ecological responsibility as the basis for its business success. For more information, please visit www.freudenberg-pm.com.
The company is a Business Group of Freudenberg Group. In 2019, the Freudenberg Group employed more than 49,000 people in some 60 countries worldwide and generated sales of more than €9.4 billion. For more information, please visit www.freudenberg.com.
About UNC Health
UNC Health is an integrated health care system owned by the state of North Carolina and based in Chapel Hill. UNC Health is committed to empowering health, not just health care. We are proactively focused on healthy-based, personalized care, changing people’s lives for the better.
UNC Health is comprised of UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, ranked consistently among the best medical centers in the country; Pardee UNC Health in Hendersonville; Chatham Hospital in Siler City; Johnston Health in Clayton and Smithfield; UNC Lenoir Health Care in Kinston; Wayne UNC Health Care in Goldsboro; Caldwell UNC Health Care in Lenoir; Nash UNC Health Care in Rocky Mount; UNC Rockingham Health Care in Eden, Onslow Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, UNC REX Healthcare and its provider network in Wake County; and the UNC Physicians Network.
About North Carolina Healthcare Association Strategic Partners
North Carolina Healthcare Association Strategic Partners, a wholly owned subsidiary of the North Carolina Healthcare Association, is a resource to healthcare providers for access to workable, cost-effective solutions to business challenges in areas such as revenue cycle, staffing, cybersecurity, supply cost management, equipment maintenance, workers’ compensation, and more.
About the North Carolina Medical Society
The North Carolina Medical Society is the oldest professional member organization in North Carolina, representing physicians and physician assistants who practice in the state. Founded in 1849, the Society seeks to provide leadership in medicine by uniting, serving and representing physicians and their health care teams to enhance the health of North Carolinians.