Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

April 08, 2020 | Tom Ballard

UT CIS hosts webinar to help state’s manufacturers better respond to COVID-19 needs

About 90 people participated in a University of Tennessee (UT)-hosted webinar on Tuesday afternoon that was focused on creating and distributing critical Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and medical devices during the COVID-19 pandemic

Organized by the Center for Industrial Services, the 75-minute event was a continuation of activities the UT-managed Tennessee Manufacturing Extension Partnership is doing to help alleviate the shortage of PPE in the state. Those include this recent request for Volunteer State manufacturers to list their capabilities in a database and participation in the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (TCCI) “TN Creators Respond” effort.

Both, along with a third effort called the “Tennessee Innovation Crowdsource Platform,” are focused on helping provided critically-needed, hard-to-procure items like PPE as well as bringing other innovations to the table.

Panelists from the healthcare sector, TCCI, and a Northeast Tennessee start-up shared their insights and answered questions posed by the viewers. Ironically, the start-up was founded by an individual whose activities have been the subject of several articles on

Russ Hubbard, President of Kingsport-based Per Vivo Labs, described how his company quickly responded to the shortage of masks by utilizing a textile-based product it now markets under the Polar Skin™ brand name. It was developed for the immediate, on-site treatment of heat-related illnesses in any environment.

“We created a novel design (for the mask) we knew we could manufacture,” Hubbard said. That approach clearly fits with his company’s motto of “Simple Solutions for Complex Problems” and the overall need for creative ways to meet the critical supply shortages.

Another participant was Chris Flynn, Vice President of Support Services at TeamHealth, who described how the company that provides physicians to more than 500 hospitals in 47 states launched a sourcing initiative March 18. He said the company typically relies on the hospitals to provide items like PPE, but discerned early in the COVID-19 run-up that the U.S. supply chain was not prepared for the impact.

Part of TeamHealth’s approach included what Flynn described as a “forecasting guidance” initiative to predict what usage was going to be going forward. The company also developed strategic partnerships with other companies in the past few weeks as part of the response.

Kelly Boutwell, TCCI’s Vice President of Member Relations, said a key priority in the organization’s efforts is finding people to manufacture isolation gowns and N95 masks. Admitting that securing design and materials specifications from individual hospitals is sometimes challenging, she said some healthcare providers are willing to take samples and check them overnight to assess if the product meets its need.