(North Little Rock, AR—April 30, 2020) – As Arkansas prepares for COVID-19 cases to peak in early May, frontline and essential healthcare workers continue to struggle with a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Arkansas makers and manufacturers are working hard to address this shortage, but a gap still exists between local organizations who need PPE and the suppliers and makers racing to produce it. To that end, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub at Winrock International worked with local software developers to create the Arkansas Maker Task Force, a dynamic online database designed to consolidate supply efforts across the state. Since March 23, when the network was founded, the 260-member maker network has produced more than 4,000 separate PPE assets, such as masks, face shields, ventilator parts and ear protectors. These PPE assets have been distributed to healthcare organizations in Arkansas and four other states.
“Arkansas makers and manufacturers are working independently across the state making PPE and other needed devices,” said Dr. Chris Jones, executive director of the Innovation Hub. “Our system will coordinate their efforts, maximizing the effectiveness of their labor and ensuring that approved designs are being utilized.”
The Task Force provides the maker community with information about local needs and approved designs, while offering a space for makers to discuss designs and production issues. The online matching system allows organizations in search of much-needed supplies to post their need to a skilled community that is eager to help. An updated version of the matching system planned for release by mid-May will include a back-end system that logs actual transactions between supply and demand and incentivizes makers.
Recipients of PPE produced by the maker task force thus far include the Arkansas Department of Health, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, CHI St. Vincent and others. In addition to Arkansas, this PPE has been distributed to organizations in New York, Idaho, Oklahoma and Florida. Though the Innovation Hub has directly tested many of the masks, face shields and other products developed through this process, the Hub advises community members to make sure local health authorities vet the designs before they are used.
“The program continues to evolve as we speak and will continue to build important functionality for makers, manufacturers, and requestors as the days go by,” said Dr. Pierce Gordon, the inaugural Innovation Scholar in Residence at the Innovation Hub. “We see this platform as one that will continue long after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. This hub of makers can help Arkansans in need when future crises arise.”
Organizations in need of PPE, essential workers of all types and community members who want to contribute to the cause are encouraged to fill out this survey and join the Arkansas Maker Task Force’s Slack page.
“We’re extremely proud of the Arkansans that have stepped up to address this effort and who continue to support our frontline responders with their time and supplies. Together, we can make Arkansas safer,” said Dr. Jones.
ABOUT THE ARKANSAS REGIONAL INNOVATION HUB
The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub at Winrock International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Arkansans by inspiring innovation and expanding opportunities. We see an Arkansas where, regardless of demographic identifiers or geographic location, Arkansans are generating and inspiring innovation in cutting-edge technology, business, and creative fields. The Innovation Hub uses tools, skills, and expertise to inspire innovators and entrepreneurs who expand the range of educational and economic opportunities for themselves, for their communities, in our state, and throughout the world.