UnityPoint tech lab, with its own 3D printer, spurs staff innovation, engagement

Transforming ideas into health care prototypes

Medical design consultant Clayton Skousen (center) works with nursing supervisor Celsey Huber (right) and principal engi
Medical design consultant Clayton Skousen (center) works with nursing supervisor Celsey Huber (right) and principal engineer Nikolas Albarran of MakerHealth (left) on a project in the MakerSpace at Unity Point St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The team was working on a sensor system to alert nurses when a urostomy bag is nearing full and needs to be changed. Currently, they have to be monitored by nurses regularly throughout the day and create problems if not changed soon enough. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — St. Luke’s Nursing Supervisor Celsey Huber was looking for a solution this past week.

She had noticed a problem while working with patients who needed continuous bladder irrigation, meant to prevent blood clots from forming. She wanted to create a system that would warn her and other nurses when it was time to change the drainage bag, which would often fill up quickly during the irrigation process.

So Huber and an engineer created and built a sensor that would sound an alarm when the liquid reached a certain level in the bag. They tested the prototype earlier this week in a new space within UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids that’s meant to encourage this type of action — particularly for those such as Huber who typically don’t get to use their entrepreneurial tendencies.

“There’s no way I would do this on my own,” Huber told a St. Luke’s physician on Wednesday.

And according to Rose Hedges, with St. Luke’s Nursing Research, the new space could be a key recruitment and retention tool for the Cedar Rapids-based hospital system.

Earlier this month, the hospital system opened a medical innovation lab called UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids generate.

The medical technology and learning lab is filled with tools that allows anyone to “transform their ideas for improving patient care into tangible prototypes to be tested and reviewed for implementation,” according to a news release.


“It’s really a space where you can make solutions with a problem you’ve identified,” said Hedges, who brought the idea for the lab to UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids.

The medical technology and learning lab consists of a physical space on the main hospital’s first floor, which houses the equipment that ranges from 3D printers to drills and a saw.

In addition, generate is supported through a back-end operating system, which powers the project creation software that teaches clinicians the technical skills they need to build their ideas.

The space was created through a partnership with a Boston-based company called MakerHealth. Hospital officials say it’s the “first hands-on fabrication lab of its kind” in the Midwest, and the third nationwide.

MakerHealth is a spinoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Little Devices Lab, which, according to its website, focuses on the design and invention of “DIY health technologies.”

Construction of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids generate was funded through a $500,000 gift to the St. Luke’s Foundation that had come from the estate of Viola Reth, a former St. Luke’s nurse who died in 2017.

The gift also covers the cost of programming through MakerNurse — a partner company of MakerHealth focused on nurses’ innovation — as well as the salary and benefits of the on-site engineer hired to maintain the lab and aid clinicians who wish to use the tools.

Expenses of the lab, including the programming and the on-site staff member, will be rolled into the hospital’s general operating budget following the first year, said Carmen Kleinsmith, senior vice president and chief nurse executive at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital.


UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids also has opened two MakerHealth satellite labs at the Witwer Children’s Therapy locations in Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha.

‘An engaged employee’

Hedges first discovered MakerHealth and the concept of fabrication labs within hospitals when she was studying engagement as a retention tool while working toward her doctoral degree.

“An engaged employee is a retained employee,” Hedges said. “If you’re engaged in your work, it’s likely you’re going to stay and keep doing what you’re doing.”

Once UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids officials invested in this project, Kleinsmith said they found it also had a major effect on the culture within the system. It was a way to engage team members in their work.

“It was really different from what we’ve done before,” Kleinsmith said.

Officials initially saw successes in their engagement strategy through the Makerspace in the Cloud license, a MakerHealth-sponsored initiative that enabled the hospital to host seven pop-up labs in the past two years.

The pop-up labs resulted in 57 project creations by clinicians, 11 of which are in use at St. Luke’s and its clinic.

“We just found this is a real thing our employees and other clinicians are excited about,” Hedges said.

The inventions produced so far by St. Luke’s staff include a 3D-printed case for medication vials to prevent needle sticks and a mascara holder for a patient who lacks fine motor movement.

Hedges expects all manner of inventions to come out of the lab — from small, everyday fixes to products that fundamentally change patient care. The size of the project isn’t important, however, she added, but rather “the impact we can make around it.”

“Even if it’s just one patient, that’s great,” she said.


Officials involved with UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids generate have capacity to pursue intellectual property rights, should the creation call for that. But creating a profit is not a priority for the lab, said Clayton Skousen, the on-site a MakerHealth medical design engineer.

If an clinician or staff member has an invention that doesn’t exist yet in health care, Hedges said the prototype’s creator can pursue a patent through the UnityPoint Health Innovation Center.

There’s also a distinction in which products can go into use and when, Hedges said. If it’s something such as a 3D-printed holder for a spoon for a patient in the rehabilitation department, “that’s safe.”

However, if there’s a product that could be viewed as research or exploratory, the project must be submitted before the Institutional Review Board for approval. UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids and Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids share a joint Institutional Review Board.

In addition, Skousen said all the prototypes created in generate will be documented in the Cloud operating system and shared with other MakerHealth spaces — especially those products that address “universal problems in every hospital.

“Doctors and nurses can take that project off (the Cloud), and really quickly replicate it without having to order it or wait for it to come in,” he said.

Other MakerHealth hospitals include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. There are also several satellite MakerHealth locations across the United States, Skousen said.

But whatever may come out of generate, clinicians such as Dr. Ryan Sundermann, an emergency medicine physician who was working on a 3D-printed wrist brace earlier this week, say they are looking forward to the opportunities the generate lab presents.


“It’s improvements on existing solutions, and that’s where the greatest change is coming,” he said.

Comments: (319) 368-8536;

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.