Upper Peninsula School District Secures Critical PPE to Support Reopening Efforts

Battling a high demand for PPE, staff works with PMBC COVID-19 Procurement Platform to make school safe for educators and students.

As efforts to re-engage Michigan’s economy were underway, it became evident that businesses across the state needed support to find the personal protective equipment (PPE) to safely start the process of reopening. As schools wrapped for the summer, they also contemplated how to safely bring students and teachers back in the fall.

Building on the success of MEDC’s Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC) program in providing essential PPE to health care and frontline workers early on in the pandemic, in May 2020, PMBC pivoted once again to support Michigan’s critical COVID-19 response efforts by providing non-medical grade PPE to businesses, community organizations, educational institutions, and others.

Through the PMBC COVID-19 Procurement Platform, the PMBC team, in partnership with Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, worked to connect those businesses in need of PPE – including face masks, face shields, gloves, goggles and other materials as necessary to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers – with Michigan businesses that have supplier capacity to meet that demand.

Due to the high volume of needs submitted to the platform, MSU Extension offered direct assistance to these organizations by connecting them with the suppliers that could best provide the PPE. Tracy Reed-Motta, support staff at MSU Extension, was one of a team of eight people that provided this outreach.

“Each week we would get a new list from PMBC of organizations that needed PPE. Some weeks we were getting 1,000 people on a list, so it was quite a big project,” said Reed-Motta. “We heard a lot of heartbreaking stories. At the beginning the general community was very apprehensive to open, so just hearing their stories – their struggles and concerns – and to know that we, in some small way, could help them, was an honor for me to be a part of.”

As the school year began to wind down, Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD) started planning for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, not fully anticipating the challenges they would face when securing the necessary PPE to ensure a safe return.

“The school catalogs we usually order from would not let us order anything. They said we weren’t allowed to because of the high demand for PPE around the U.S. at the time,” said Mary Michaels, school nurse at EUPISD. “Once we could order from the regular school catalogs, their prices were high, much higher than their normal prices. What was in the catalog was not what they were telling me it would cost.”

As Michaels continued her search for suppliers that could get her the items she needed at a reasonable price, it became increasingly complicated to track various vendors and orders. That is when she received an email from PMBC and quickly submitted her needs on the PPE procurement platform.

A short time later, she received an email back from PMBC with a long list of suppliers she could contact. Within a week, Reed-Motta from MSU Extension reached out to Michaels to offer her support.

“I was thankful to get Tracy’s email because she helped narrow down the list for me. It can be overwhelming when you have a lot of different places to order from,” said Michaels. “What she gave me was concise. I could send out a few emails from this list and see who would get back to me and there was no pressure. They told me ‘this is what I have, this is what I can get you, keep in touch if I can be of help.’”

At first Michaels was only looking for N95 masks for her and some of the other employees at the school. One of the suppliers on her list, Vandergen LLC, a PMBC COVID-19 Emergency Access and Retooling Grant recipient, was able to meet that need, in part through the retooling assistance provided by PMBC. The COVID-19 Emergency Access and Retooling Grant program provided funds to small manufacturers looking to retool and produce critical health and human service supplies in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ultimately through the connection made with the company, Michaels ordered N95 masks, children’s face masks and face shields, which Vandergen offered to her for free since these shields had been donated to them.

“I think the biggest takeaway from this experience has been one of true American spirit, the ability to come together in an act of service – that was huge,” said Reed-Motta. “I was given a great opportunity to serve in a way that I didn’t think that I could. I’d like to think that in some small way, I was able to help these businesses – even if it were just by being there to listen.”

Every day, PMBC is helping to connect Michigan suppliers of goods and services with local, domestic and global buyers, based on demand and procurement needs. To learn more about this program, visit michiganbusiness.org/pmbc.