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Sewing gowns to protect St. Joseph’s Hospital staff

Jane Primeau, a retired registered nurse and sewer extraordinaire, has teamed up with friends to produce much-needed personal protection equipment for staff at the hospital she retired from
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Jane Primeau’s home has been transformed into a factory setting as she sews isolation gowns, along with about 25 volunteers working from their homes, for use at the local hospital. Picture supplied by Jane Primeau

An Elliot Lake woman is sewing gowns for use to protect hospital workers at the forefront of the COIVD-19 pandemic.

Jane Primeau, a retired registered nurse who worked 48 years at the city’s St. Joseph’s General Hospital and is an avid sewer, started working on the project after being approached by Dr. Cathy Groh.

“She (Dr. Groh) was at a meeting at the clinic and was told they (the hospital) was short of isolation gowns,” Primeau said in a telephone interview with Elliot Lake Today from her Axmith Ave. home.

Dr. Groh, who knew Primeau was a talented sewer, called her and asked if she would be interested in helping to supply the hospital with gowns. Primeau’s response was that she “definitely” would.

The idea immediately caught on with five friends who were interested in helping and sewing. It has now swelled to about 25 volunteers who have put together about 100 gowns for the hospital with more being put together.

“Great stuff,” hospital Chief Executive Officer Pierre Ozolins said of the hospital needs during COVID-19 pandemic efforts. “Everyone utilizing their talents to help out in a time of need. It is really emblematic of what we're going to need to do collectively to get through this.”

The gowns are made primarily of cotton sheets and donations of sheets have been ongoing. The sheets are delivered outside to Primeau’s home where she acknowledges delivery by waving to the recipients in line with self-distancing measures.

“I believe in my heart that we don’t know who has it,” she said of the self-distancing which has become a part of everyday life in the city and across the country.

At one point she received four boxes of 49 king-size sheets from the local Canadian Tire store through employee Debbie Denley. The delivery was augmented by Velcro used in the gowns.

“Cotton sheets are the best,” Primeau acknowledged.

She recently had another 19 sheets dropped off at her home.

A pattern for the sewers was created after one of the hospital gowns was taken apart. The pattern is used by the group of sewers to create new ones of the hospital.

The project has turned her living room and other spaces in her home into what looks like a factory, she said jokingly.

Hospital workers can go through six gowns in a shift and the gowns can be reused after being washed.

Primeau is overwhelmed by the local support the work has garnered.

“We have an amazing town,” she said.

She is also making masks for public use. Primeau said she gets requests for masks from people in Elliot Lake to use when they go grocery shopping or have to buy essential items in the community. The requests come in and she sews the mask, places them in clean plastic bags, tags them with the recipient’s name and places them in her mailbox for pick up.

“We will keep making them (gowns) until we don’t need to anymore,” she said of the effort.




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