CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids mold company donates 'ear savers' for mask wearers

MSI Mold Builders hopes to provide more to local health care workers

Receptionist Vicky Spurgeon wears mask holders donated by MSI Mold Builders at Cottage Grove Place in Cedar Rapids on Th
Receptionist Vicky Spurgeon wears mask holders donated by MSI Mold Builders at Cottage Grove Place in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, May 21, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids injection mold company has donated 50,000 plastic surgical mask holder extenders that relieve ear pressure and irritation for health care workers who are working long hours to care for COVID-19 patients.

MSI Mold Builders usually manufactures molds for industries that produce everything from recreational equipment to home recycling bins. But when the owner was asked to help front-line workers during the coronavirus pandemic, he had crews quickly design a mold for ear savers — a small plastic part that helps surgical masks fit better for longer comfort.

Dale Larsen, director of human resources for MSI, said Prisma Health, a large not-for-profit health care system in Greenville, S.C., where MSI also has a plant, contacted the company president, Roger Klouda, in April and asked if MSI could mass-produce a mold for the ear savers that would help Prisma’s 32,000 employees during this crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “has a part model that anyone can use with a 3D printer to make ear savers, but it makes about two or three an hour,” Larsen said. “Roger is locally focused in Greenville and Cedar Rapids, so he decided it would be worthwhile to do this for health care workers in both communities.”

The local recipients of the ear savers are Cottage Grove Place in Cedar Rapids, Hy-Vee Pharmacy at 4825 Johnson Ave. NW, Cedar Rapids, Mercy Iowa City, and Blairstown and Swisher first responders.

Brie Roe, charge nurse with Mercy Iowa City, said medical workers have been using the ear savers about two months. The devices have helped reduce any irritation behind the ears that is caused by elastic ear loops.

“The nice thing about these is that you can adjust where it goes — lower on your neck, or I have a ponytail and wear it above. They are flexible and can be adjusted (for size),” Roe said.

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As a charge nurse who isn’t with patients all day, Roe can take her mask off at times. But most of the nurses seeing patients have to wear the masks continuously throughout eight- and 12-hour shifts. So comfort is important, she noted.

“It’s so nice how community has responded to help us,” said Mark Bailey, executive director of Cottage Grove Place. “These really save the ears and make a big difference.”

Bailey said the independent and assisted living center has no cases of COVID-19 at this time. Cottage Grove, one of the largest senior living centers in Cedar Rapids, had an outbreak earlier this month as Linn County Public Health officials said five residents and staff tested positive at the facility. One resident’s death was associated with the outbreak.

Larsen said MSI moved quickly on the mold. He said it usually takes six to 14 weeks to design a mold and get it into production. But within two days, MSI completed the design, which already had a basic model available on the internet.

The work didn’t end there. A machine had to be programmed to make the injection mold, and then it was polished and assembled in about five days.

Since MSI only makes molds, not parts, it asked Kelly Plastics in Belle Plaine to produce the 100 percent recycled polyethylene plastic mask extenders for the company, Larsen said.

The mold makes 400 ear savers per hour, a more efficient and cost-effective solution compared with a 3D printer.

“This was our opportunity to help those who are working tirelessly each day to help others,” Klouda said. “These individuals are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, and if we can provide just a little more comfort to their lives, then that’s something we are more than happy and willing to do.”

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MSI is paying for everything and donated the ear savers to Prisma and the other local hospitals and offices.

It has been slower going locally because most hospitals and offices have corporate offices that must approve the ear savers, even when they are donated.

“We have been a family-owned business for 50 years here in Cedar Rapids and would really like to have the ability to give much more help to those in Iowa,” Larsen said.

If any health care-related business or organization is interested in receiving ear savers from MSI Mold Builders, contact Dale Larsen, director of human resources, at (319) 848-7001 or dlarsen@msimoldbuilders.com.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.