PREM is looking for plastic sheeting to make protective gowns like this one for healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle. 

Ahwatukee and other businesses are pitching in to help meet the needs of healthcare workers working at the frontlines of this global pandemic.

A grassroots group of businesses have organized as the Pandemic Response Equipment Manufacturing, or PREM, Group to manufacture isolation gowns to donate to local hospitals. 

The PREM Group was started by Ahwatukee entrepreneur Steve Abbit and Delta Technology CEO Lyle Rusanowski but has grown to include  Honor Health, Arizona State University, FiberCORR, Moore Tool & Die, The ALC Group, Fruth Custom Plastics, Film Tech LLC, WestRock and Imaginatii.

Abbit, the Lakewood inventor of a unique funnel called Freestand, was inspired to start the group after his uncle died last month from COVID-19. 

Both Abbit and Rusanowski have loved ones who work in healthcare and are exposed to the dangers of the virus daily.

“The goal of the group is twofold, Rusanowski explained. The first goal is to help where we can by utilizing the strengths and assets that the group brings together. 

“The second is to establish a supply chain to quickly deliver the disposable gowns to local healthcare workers, who are currently going without the proper protective equipment that they need to stay safe.”

Hospitals across the country have been struggling to keep up with the demand for personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and isolation gowns worn by doctors and nurses as a barrier between themselves and their infected patients.

Published reports have documented numerous cases where they have been forced to reuse isolation gowns, create their own PPE out of things like trash bags or go without. 

“When the virus started to really take hold here in the U.S., several of my friends and family told me their facilities were running out of PPE,” Abbit said. “This was crazy! I knew I wanted to make a difference and started thinking about what I could do.”

Added Rusanowski: “Having resources available, I would feel awful if I did not use some of them to help keep people safe when they are willingly going into situations without the equipment required to keep them safe.” 

But setting up PREM has been no easy task, though Abbit said last Friday the group is getting close to manufacturing and this week made a pitch to the community for help.

The group obtained the Arizona Corporation Commission’s approval to file as a business entity and received its federal Employer Identification Number. 

“And, the owners of Associated Pacific Machine Company offered their generous support with a 100-ton hydraulic press which is required for manufacturing and will significantly speed the process,” Abbit wrote on the group’s website, “We are sending a truck to Southern California to pick up the 14,000-pound press and bring it to our facility in Phoenix near the end of” this week.

This week, he said, “we face another challenge and are requesting support from the community and business organizations. Our needs are simple, yet powerful. We need to ‘feed the beast.’ It’s that big 100-ton press.”

He explained, “We feed it as much plastic sheeting as possible so it can crank out as many disposable isolation gowns as possible.”

 PREM Group is seeking tax-deductible donations of cash and plastic sheeting, since 18 square feet of sheeting is needed for each gown.

Details of the group’s other needs are on its website.

The PREM Group plans to donate the first batch to Honor Health, a nonprofit that runs five hospitals in the Valley.

The group hopes to eventually expand to donate gowns to other local hospitals.

“We are requesting involvement from business owners and leaders who want to be a part of the solution, to help the world, to save lives, who are willing to help fill critical needs,” said Abbit. “We will also be asking the community for volunteers to tape, wrap and box finished gowns as well as transportation services to deliver boxes of gowns to medical facilities in need.”

Add Rusanowski: “We want everyone to stay safe, including our volunteers, but without raising your hand and getting involved, we will not have the impact we could have and not be able to help as much as we could. Grassroot efforts like ours can have a very positive effect on a local basis that when combined with other groups doing their part across the city and country can move mountains.”

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