Glimmers of Hope in the Age of COVID-19

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Glimmers of Hope in the Age of COVID-19

Economy News | March 23, 2020
By: Chris Geehern

It is said that crisis doesn’t change people. It reveals them.

Massachusetts employers are creating glimmers of hope amid the COVID-19 crisis even as they wrestle with daily questions about how to pay their employees and lingering uncertainty surrounding the future of their companies.

The Massachusetts business community has launched an unprecedented response to the pandemic that includes everything from retooling to produce medical equipment for overloaded hospitals to donating surplus respirator masks to keeping workers on the payroll even after business grinds to a halt.

“We have seen an overwhelming sense of concern from companies about their employees’ welfare. ‘How can we best keep them safe?  What can we do to keep them employed?  If we have to reduce our workforce, how do we continue pay and benefits the best we can?’” said Gary MacDonald, Executive Vice President of AIM HR Solutions, which has answered hundreds of calls from worried AIM members during the past two weeks.

“The crisis has really brought out the best instincts of employers as they fulfill their responsibilities as the keepers of economic opportunity in Massachusetts.”

That sense of responsibility has underpinned major donations from the business community to hospitals short on equipment.

Boston-based AIM member Gillette found it had a supply of N95 respirator masks onsite for its manufacturing needs and promptly made a commitment to donate 50,000 of the masks to help protect health-care workers and first responders.   The company also supplied thousands of razors along with these masks, in keeping with the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendation to be clean shaven for a proper mask fit.

Suffolk Construction of Boston is donating more than 1,250 N95 masks to the Mass General Brigham hospital network “so they can be used to protect patients and medical personnel during this time of great need.” Daniel Antonellis, vice president of marketing and communications at Suffolk, said the firm also reached out to other construction companies in the Boston region to encourage them to donate their masks to local hospitals to assist in the effort.

By week’s end, four major medical and life sciences associations (Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council and the Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals) had established an Emergency Supply Hub to coordinate donations of supplies and resources to the commonwealth’s hospitals.

Other manufacturing companies were redeploying some of their production and expertise to make badly needed medical and cleaning supplies.

Hazen Paper, a 95-year-old paper converter in Holyoke with customers throughout the consumer products industry, reports that it is gearing up to produce hand sanitizer and disinfecting cleaning wipes. Another family owned business, spirit bottler MS Walker Inc. of Norwood, is similarly looking to re-purpose its distilleries to make hand sanitizer.

Ahead, a New Bedford maker of sports head wear and apparel, is working to see if it can assemble some light duty face masks.  The company is doing permeability testing to see if its materials could be used.

A few miles to the southeast in Hyannis, packaging company has modified the equipment normally used to make deli takeout containers and other plastic packaging so the machine can produce — at a rate of 300 per minute — the N95 respirator masks desperately needed by medical workers battling the coronavirus.

The Cape Cod Times reports that SencorpWhite will deliver a half-million-dollar machine Monday to one of the companies President Donald Trump has called on to ramp up production of the breathing masks in the face of a national shortage.

A Massachusetts clothing company is talking about sewing medical gowns. And longtime AIM member Dependable Cleaners is working to maintain operations in the greater Boston area to help ensure first responders can get their clothes cleaned and is connecting with officials to see if their tailors can be reassigned to making face masks.

“The strength of Massachusetts manufacturers has always been innovation and creativity and that’s what we’re seeing in the face of COVID-19,” said Brooke Thomson, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

The state and federal governments have pledged expedited regulatory approvals for companies that can meet supply needs for critical products.

Massachusetts has also formed an Emergency Response Team (ERT) to mobilize the manufacturing assets in the Commonwealth on behalf of the COVID-19 response.   The ERT is part of the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative co-chaired by Secretary Michael Kennealy and Mike Tamasi of AIM-member Accurounds and is seeking companies with knowledge of both textile, functional fabrics and 3-D/Additive prototyping and production assets across Massachusetts.

AIM manufacturing members interested in producing goods related to COVID-19 should contact CEO John Regan (jregan@aimnet.org) for more information.

Meanwhile, MacDonald of AIM HR Solutions said many employers have been expressing in heart-wrenching terms the need to protect employees amid business downturns:

  • One employer has decided to pay its laid-off employees at their normal rate for the next several weeks. “We feel it is important to make sure all my employees continue to receive normal income,” the employer said.
  • Another employer wanted to know if the company could change its employer contribution for health coverage from 70 percent to 100 percent for employees on furlough.
  • One company insisted on paying full wages for any employee who is being quarantined.
  • Yet another was talking through how to pay each employee $500 before an unavoidable layoff.
  • Many are discovering the Workshare program (reduced hours, with supplemental unemployment income) and looking at that as a way to lessen the impact on staff.

“We hear this consistent expression of compassion, care and ‘we are in this together.’” MacDonald said.

AIM staff members John Regan, Brooke Thomson and Gary MacDonald contributed to this article



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