Reusable Personal Respirators Protect Healthcare Heroes Amid COVID-19

Pete CodellaArticles, COVID-19

This article is part of a series featuring Utah-based companies and what they’re doing during the coronavirus pandemic.

With personal protective equipment (PPE) in short supply, the Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) at University of Utah Health is doing its part to alleviate the shortage by designing a new Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR).

With volunteer help from Utah’s largest technology company, L3Harris, the Center has been able to distribute over 1,200 PAPRs to the University of Utah Hospital and Indian Health Services to support COVID-19 relief efforts on the Navajo Nation. 

“PAPR systems provide excellent protection and can drastically reduce the consumption of single-use PPE,” explains Bryan McRae, MD, interim co-director at CMI. “The CMI team and our University of Utah Health colleagues have been nimble and innovative in developing a solution to bridge the gap while traditional PPE sources remain uncertain.”

Designed to enclose the user fully, a PAPR system consists of a hood or helmet and a filtered respirator to provide the wearer with a constant flow of clean air. By combining readily available components such as mobile battery packs, portable fans, and replaceable medical-grade filters with several 3D printed adapters, the assembled PAPR system designed by CMI expands the options to protect health workers treating COVID-19 patients. 

In partnership with CMI, over 100 L3Harris employees 3Dprinted PAPR parts and assembled the base units. They worked with Broad Fork Bags, whose two-person crew sewed and attached hood units to the final PAPR systems.

“It was a privilege for L3Harris to support this critical PPE need for those battling COVID-19 on the front lines,” said Daniel Gelston, president, Broadband Communications Systems, L3Harris. “Supporting the communities we call home is part of our one shared mission, and we are proud to assist Utah’s healthcare heroes.”

As the University of Utah Hospital braces for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients, all options to expand the supply of PPE are explored. This includes retrofitting older pieces of still-viable equipment to the newer PAPR systems. Because of the customized 3D printed adapter used to connect the respirator to the helmet, CMI’s PAPR system can also connect to older models of PAPR helmets still in-stock, enabling hundreds of previously unusable helmets to be worn safely and comfortably by health care workers at University Hospital.

“We are especially grateful for the expertise and insight from our university and industry partners,” said Bernhard Fassl, MD, interim co-director of CMI. “As we further develop solutions for health workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, we will continue to rely on our community partners to help us implement these projects.”