Main Content

Rotman students and alumni roll up their sleeves to tackle the PPE shortage in Canada

April 30, 2020

Photo of Manpreet KaurWhen Manpreet Kaur (MBA 18) first heard about the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage, she sprang into action.

It all began with a call from her partner — Dr. Sunny Johal, an emergency room physician based in Vancouver — one Friday evening in March. In addition to catching her up on his day, Johal casually mentioned how supplies appeared to be dwindling in many hospitals as the COVID-19 outbreak grew more serious.

Alarmed, and motivated to do more, Kaur, who is based in Montreal, started brainstorming solutions and reaching out to other organizations addressing the PPE shortage in their communities. Within 48 hours, she and Johal had brought the Mask a Hero campaign to Canada.

Their aim is straightforward: they are encouraging businesses, including dental practices, nail and beauty salons and smaller healthcare clinics, based in Ontario and British Columbia to donate their extra masks, gowns, gloves and other supplies to essential services that could benefit from them.

“The idea is that when you are stepping out to do grocery run, you can also swing by your local donation site and drop off supplies too,” says Kaur.

For her, it’s about connecting people who with organizations in need. She updates and manages the Mask a Hero British Columbia and Ontario websites daily — after finishing her duties at her day job, working remotely as an investment manager with Teralys Capital — with information on what, how and where individuals can donate.

As of early April, they have fielded almost 100 inquiries and made donors aware of commonly overlooked groups, such as social services organizations, pharmacies and remote clinics, that are continuing to serve communities and in need of supplies.

“Initially, we thought that if we could get just one box of masks donated to a local hospital, we’d be happy with that,” she says. “I feel like we have made a bit of dent in the problem.”

Kaur is just one member of the Rotman community applying her management training and leadership skills to take on the growing problem of the country’s PPE shortage. Alumni and student across the school are pivoting quickly and developing innovative solutions to keep communities safe.

Turning to 3D printers for replenishing PPE supplies

After his clinical rotation was cut short because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Peter Zhang (PharmD/MBA 22) was eager to use the extra time at home to support the healthcare workers on the frontline of the outbreak.

“One day, I was working in the ICU helping patients, and then suddenly, I couldn’t,” he says. “If I had to be at home, I wanted to do something that was productive for the community.”

He soon became connected with a network of students across the University of Toronto and McMaster University in Hamilton, called 3DPPE, who were also interested in mobilizing 3D printers to manufacture face shields for local hospitals.

Zhang, who leads logistics for the group, immediately started reaching out to his network at U of T with access to 3D printers. As offers to help started rolling in, he and other volunteers began ordering supplies and scheduling volunteers, who look after assembling visors, sterilization and deliveries.

As of early April, they have produced more than 1,700 face shields for Hamilton and Toronto area hospitals and have gained access to over 43 active printers — and those numbers keep growing.

He’s impressed by the impact the group has made and is grateful for the hands-on management experience.

“It’s giving me a perspective on entrepreneurship and leadership, it’s great preparation for my core MBA classes.”

Peter Zhang delivering equipment, created by 3DPPE, to Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital.

Collaborating with manufacturers to develop cost-effective shields

Others, like Shervin Rowshani (EMBA 19), a practicing dentist who owns and oversees dental offices in Muskoka, didn’t think twice about pivoting quickly to address the PPE shortage.

Rowshani saw the increasing demand for mask and gloves early in 2020, when ordering supplies for his practice. By the time the Ontario Government declared a state of emergency, he saw PPE stocks completely dry up.

Realizing the scope of the problem, he started collaborating with the engineers at True North Printed Plastics, who were also shifting their attention to manufacturing protective equipment.

Drawing on his experience as his practicing dentist, Rowshani was able to describe the types of face shields required in his work. The team had produced a prototype for a face shield that was lightweight, secure, easy to assemble and could accommodate protective glasses that dentists and other healthcare professionals typically wear.

The team can manufacturer 3,000 face shields every shift, which they are selling to across Canada, almost at cost, with any extra funds invested back into the production line and materials. They have applied for a medical devices license and hope to begin supplying hospitals and healthcare workers.

He’s able to offer his employees temporary and meaningful work during this crisis.

“The need for PPEs is going to significantly increase,” he says. “The next time I pick up a drill or provide a dental service, I know I’ll need this equipment. It’s a problem that hits close to home.”

Shervin Rowshani outside the True North Printed Plastics offices.

Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »

Learn more about the student- and alumni-led organizations tackling the PPE shortage