It’s a marriage made out of ability and necessity.

When Valley Ambulance owner Randy Meininger was talking with his son, Kaldon, about a need for a better quality gown for first responders going to potential COVID-19 patients, Kaldon, who got married last June, thought about Chelsea Wilson and the staff at A Bridal Affair in Scottsbluff. After a few texts and conversations, staff at the bridal shop was producing plastic gowns for the ambulance crews.

“Conversation in the back yard, enjoying the sun, discussing a problem, and here’s a solution,” Randy Meininger said.

Wilson’s staff had been making masks — and still is — when Meininger asked to work on the gowns.

“When I came to her and asked her, ‘Can you switch off your mask making and go to this?’ he said, “it was like, ‘How soon do you need them?’ Between local (products) from hand sanitizer to the gowns, to have businesses in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, that are willing to step up and change a little bit to be able to meet those needs is just huge.”

Great Plains Distillery in Scottsbluff transitioned some of its operation from making vodka to making hand sanitizer.

Wilson said she was happy to shift some of her operation from providing wedding dresses to providing personal protective equipment.

“It was actually nice to be able to do something for people who are putting themselves at risk,” she said. “They’re on the front lines. They’re taking the majority of the risk for everything, so it was nice to be able to step in and help them protect themselves against everything else.”

The need for a better quality gown was highlighted by a recent supply that came in for Valley’s medics. The gowns were extremely thin with sleeves that were too short among the biggest issues.

“Some of the ones that have come in to us are unacceptable,” Meininger said. “I can’t provide it to protect our crews. Our number one thing on my part is I’ve got to protect my crew members.

"Number two is I’ve got to be sure I can meet the needs of the patients, so this allows us to do our jobs. Without that, I’ve heard and seen horror stories all over of first responders not having the appropriate PPE. We have not had that issue here, but we’re starting to see it. We’ve always been just right before we needed them, a shipment would come in.

"However, like I said, this last shipment — not acceptable. This will be able to meet the needs and do both - protect our crew members and be able to meet the needs of the patient, so this is huge.”

Getting just the right gown has been a bit of trial and error, but they seem to have settled on the right pattern.

“(Meininger) actually provided the plastic to us, and we were creating them the first time, and we were having a hard time,” Wilson said, “so we just took an original, and we split it apart, and we just started creating them based off of cutting a few different templates out and connecting them. We finally came up with one that was very close, and now it’s coming out just like clockwork. It’s nice and moving along pretty quickly now.”

The gowns are a one-size-fits-all and will be worn by crews when the incident or patient meets criteria that would present a risk of exposure to COVID-19 to first response crews. In those incidents, the crew will don the gowns, gloves and N95 respirator masks. When the crew goes through three to four of the gowns on each of those calls, the need for supplies grows quickly. Meininger used the example of Friday morning when the crew had already had to “gown up” three times by mid-morning.

A Bridal Affair has already produced 100 of the gowns and will be making at least 100 more. Meininger said he is thankful for their willingness to step in to meet a need.

“While businesses were mandated to shut down, she stepped up to the plate and said, ‘How can I help?’” Meininger said.


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Reporter

Mark McCarthy is a reporter with the Star-Herald and oversees the Gering Courier as editor. He can be reached at 308-632-9049 or via email at mark.mccarthy@starherald.com.

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