Stepping Up: Laurelmead residents helping others mask up

PROVIDENCE – In any crisis, families turn to each other for support in a time of need.

The residents and staff at Laurelmead Cooperative Inc. understood the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic that is not only impacting Rhode Island but well beyond the state’s borders. One resident at the assisted living facility has a niece who works as a veterinarian in New York City, a significant virus hotspot, and the practice the veterinarian works at gave all of their N95 masks to other health care workers who are on the frontlines combatting the pandemic.

“So, [the veterinarians] had no masks for doing surgery,” Laurelmead resident Karen Sheahan told Providence Business News Tuesday.

Then, Sheahan and about seven other fellow residents sprung into action. The residents took to their sewing machines and quickly produced 18 masks that were shipped off to the Big Apple, Sheahan said.

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But then, the urge to help others continued to grow with the Laurelmead residents. Not long after the first batch was made, Sheahan said she was approached by Laurelmead Executive Director Lucinda Dohanian to see if the residents can put their sewing machines to further use.

AN ASSORTMENT OF masks made by residents and staff at Laurelmead Cooperative Inc. in Providence. Several hundred have been made for residents and the community to protect themselves from the COVID-19 pandemic. / COURTESY LAURELMEAD COOPERATIVE INC.
AN ASSORTMENT OF masks made by residents and staff at Laurelmead Cooperative Inc. in Providence. Hundreds of masks have been made for residents and the community to protect themselves from the COVID-19 pandemic. / COURTESY LAURELMEAD COOPERATIVE INC.

“Lucinda, came and asked us if we would make masks for all the employees who work here. It was really important that they had masks. So, we said sure,” Sheahan said. “That was about 70 employees, so we made masks for them. Here they are, walking around Laurelmead all masked up and we tried to use a lot of colorful material to make them.”

The positivity continued to spread at Laurelmead. Sheahan said the group was once again asked to make 160 more masks, this time for residents in order to help any possible spread of illness in the facility. While other nursing homes have been severely impacted by the virus, Laurelmead has not had any positive cases to date, Dohanian said.

The residents aren’t the only ones helping in the cause. Laurelmead staffer Claire Hatch is currently on a medical furlough and has been making masks from home. Hatch said she has made more than 300 masks, with half of them going to Laurelmead residents and the rest to friends and family, and receiving appreciation along the way.

“They trust everybody and they know they’re safe there. I had emails from residents saying how safe they feel there, thank you for your service,” Hatch said. “They just appreciate everything so much. It’s a family community where residents and staff are like one big family.”

Sheahan said the group plans to still sew together other essential equipment, possibly gowns, and provide them to workers and individuals in hospice care. The residents view their deeds as a “gift in both directions,” Sheahan said, offering gifts to those who need them and having the positive feeling of helping out.

“It’s so worth doing,” Sheahan said.

Providence Business News is spotlighting nonprofits, companies and workers stepping up to challenges presented by the spread of the new coronavirus.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.