As our frontline workers care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, they shouldn’t have to worry about rationing their supply of personal protective equipment. At just the right time, Kart Kleen, a Missoula company, thinks they’ve found a solution to this growing problem.
“We saw there’s a need to clean PPE, they're running out of it...there's a shortage, so we wanted to go as quickly as we could and fill that gap,” said President and CEO of Kart Kleen Jason Gardiner.
For years, Gardiner and his team have been focused on developing a machine to sanitize shopping carts, but when the news of a PPE shortage began hitting the headlines three weeks ago, he knew his team had the resources to help.
“Well, it’s pretty interesting to have a conversation with your team and to say that after all the time we've spent doing this, we kind of need to shift gears and go that way instead.”
That conversation led Kart Kleen to developing a mobile machine that can safely disinfect N95 masks, face shields, protective goggles, and gloves without harming the equipment.
Leading their research endeavor is University of Montana professor Dr. Bill Holben.
Holben explained that the PPE machine is designed to destroy the genetic material of organisms so that they can't replicate, and in the case of pathogens like the COVID-19 virus, so that they can't cause disease.
While UV radiation as a disinfectant has been around for awhile, Holben says harnessing it to do specific tasks with specific items like PPE is a whole new ball game, but their team has risen to the challenge.
“You can literally put something in the front end of this machine, treat it for a couple of minutes, pull it out the other end, and put it back on your face and go on to the next patient,” said Holben.
Leaders say an incredible degree of collaboration has gone into developing the PPE machine so quickly, but for the Kart Kleen team, it’s all been worth it.
According to Gardiner, “You do what you do, and you do what you can in order to help people that are in need and in situations that are above the normative, and this is definitely a scenario that's above the normative.”
Kart Kleen plans to begin production immediately, and they hope to see their PPE machines in hospitals in the next two to three weeks.