How an Activewear Company Helped a Virginia Health System Switch to Reusable Gowns

It all started with a marketing email sent to avid rowers in the spring of 2020.

JL Racing, the well-known clothing brand for rowing enthusiasts, was looking for contacts in the healthcare industry.

The family business was trying to make a major pivot in making reusable medical gowns for healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hiatus from sports prompted the former sportswear maker to accelerate plans on a new product it had been working on for a few years: a reusable medical gown.

Leaders at Northern Virginia’s Inova Health System — like so many others across the country — were struggling to find a reliable source of personal protective equipment for their workers.

“There was a huge shortage of PPE and the types of gowns we were using to replace our normal gowns were pretty abysmal,” Michelle Peninger, assistant vice president of infection prevention at Inova, told Healthcare Dive.

Sizing was inconsistent among replacement dresses; some were too narrow, sleeve lengths varied, exposing forearms, and belts that were too long became contaminated after dragging on the floor.

This happened at rush hour when “people wanted to be protected”, Lucy He, director of infection prevention and control at Inovatold Healthcare Dive.

Inova’s Doctor Rick Place happened to read JL Racing’s marketing email. At the time, Place served on a committee tasked with finding creative solutions to address the PPE shortage at Inova.

“I remember receiving that first phone call with such trepidation,” La Forma COO Jonathan Maloney said of the initial call with Inova executives. La Forma is the brand that the group behind JL Racing created for dresses.

At the start of 2020, fraudsters and scammers were trying to take advantage of the disruption in the supply chain amid the immense need for protective equipment for American hospitals. Maloney wondered how to convince the healthcare system that his company was legitimate without sounding too good to be true.

After initial conversations, Inova and La Forma executives decided to work together to create a reusable gown that fits better, is easier to put on and take off, and can be reused up to 100 times.

The two organizations worked closely together, soliciting feedback from nurses and staff to improve the gown, sometimes meeting on late-night Zoom calls. What they found was a dress that no longer rides up the forearm now that it has thumbholes, and an easier way to take the dress off with a drawstring-like feature that eliminates the need to ask for help to reach a tie at the back of the neck.

“What people love the most about it is that it has a drawstring on the left shoulder,” he said. “The comments we’ve received from many frontline workers are, ‘we’re in the room for hours and it’s not as hot as all the other dresses. It’s really breathable and it’s cool. “”

The product is now in use at two of Inova’s five hospitals after the first gowns were rolled out at Inova’s flagship hospital in February 2021. Inova infection control managers will present this week at an annual conference of industry, educating their infection prevention peers about their work with La Forma.

The switch to reusables has not been without problems.

There must be a well thought out system in place to use reusable gowns; from storage to washing and where to place on a unit for quicker access. All of that took time to iron out, he said.

The health system did not share financial figures, but said it saved 213 tonnes of waste from ending up in a landfill. They typically used 3.1 million single-use disposable gowns each year.

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