How a sportswear company helped a Virginia healthcare system transition to reusable gowns

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

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

The family-owned company was attempting to make a major pivot in manufacturing reusable medical gowns for healthcare workers at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hiatus on sports prompted the traditional sportswear manufacturer to accelerate plans on a new product it had been working on in recent years: a reusable medical gown.

The leaders of Northern Virginia’s Inova health care system, like so many 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 type of gowns we were replacing for our regular gowns was pretty awful,” Michelle Peninger, vice president vice president for infection prevention at Inova told Healthcare Dive.

Size was inconsistent between replacement gowns; some were too tight, sleeve lengths varied, exposing forearms, and belts that were too long would become contaminated after being dragged across the floor.

This was at peak times when “people wanted protection”, Lucy He, director of infection prevention and control at Inovahe told Healthcare Dive.

Inova doctor Rick Place happened to read the JL Racing marketing email. At the moment, Post served on a committee tasked with finding creative solutions to address the PPE shortage in Inova.

“I remember getting that first phone call with such trepidation,” said Jonathan Maloney, chief operating officer of La Forma, of the initial phone call with Inova’s leaders. La Forma is the brand that the group behind JL Racing created for the suits.

In early 2020, fraudsters and scammers were trying to take advantage of the disrupted 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 the initial conversations, the leaders of Inova and La Forma decided to work together to create a reusable suit that fits better, is easier to put on and take off, and can be reused up to 100 times.

The two organizations worked closely, soliciting feedback from nurses and staff to improve the outfit, sometimes meeting during late-night Zoom calls. What they came up with is a dress that no longer fits on the forearm now that it has thumb holes and an easier way to remove the dress thanks to a drawstring-like feature that eliminates the need to ask for help reaching a tie at the back of the neck.

“The thing people love most about this is that there is a lanyard on the left shoulder,” he said. “The feedback we’ve gotten from many frontline workers is: ‘we’re in the room for hours and it’s not as hot as all the other clothes. It’s really breathable and feels cool.'”

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

The transition to reusables did not go smoothly.

You must have a thoughtful system to use reusable gowns; from storage to recycling and where to place it on a unit for faster access. All of that took time to iron out, he said.

The health system did not share financial data, but said it prevented 213 tons of waste from ending up in a landfill. They typically used 3.1 million disposable gowns each year.

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