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COVID-19 Updates

Inside Nike’s Race to Help Protect Healthcare Workers

An Oral History of One Team’s Race to Help Protect Front-line Healthcare Workers 3

OHSU’s Callie Beckwith tries out a new face shield produced by Nike, April 3, 2020. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

An Oral History of One Team’s Race to Help Protect Front-line Healthcare Workers 1

Staff on call at Boston Medical Center’s Emergency Department, April 17, 2020. (Boston Medical Center)

This is a long shot.

It isn’t the first time that Nike teams have sprung into action to meet a daunting challenge. 

But there was no precedent for this level of urgency. There was no playbook for these kind of stakes, as teams across NIKE, Inc., came together to respond to a pressing need: personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers fighting COVID-19. 

Among those who rallied to help are designers, innovators, engineers, social impact partners and public affairs leaders, working closely with local health professionals while adhering to social distancing and safety guidelines. And they are far from alone, as companies and industries worldwide join in supporting front-line responders. 

What follows is the story of one team’s race to deliver protective equipment into the hands of healthcare workers fighting to save lives, as told by those who came together to make it possible.

“We Need to Get a Team Together”

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Julia Brim-Edwards | Senior Director, Nike Government and Public Affairs: “‘A list of things money can’t buy’ – that’s what we called it. It was a list of personal protective equipment urgently needed to protect hospital workers. Because of the level of need and level of shortages, even if you had the money, you couldn’t buy it. And what the team at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) told us when they shared this with us was, we know this is a long shot. But anything you can do to help will save lives."

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Dr. Miko Enomoto | Anesthesiologist, Oregon Health & Science University: “I work in the intensive care units taking care of critically-ill patients, and also in the operating room, taking care of people who need surgery. I could have never imagined the scale and magnitude of what we’re facing right now. And yet – this is what brought me to medicine. Helping patients, being in a position to make a difference – it’s why I’m here.”

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Kate Walsh | President and CEO, Boston Medical Center: “We’ve had to face difficult days and respond to terrible events before. But this is something that affects you inside and outside the walls of the hospital. If you think about the concerns you have for yourself, for your family, every single healthcare worker has that. They’re worried about their aging parents, their children, their spouses. Yet they leave all of that at the door to focus on caring for patients. And as an organization, a big part of what we need to do that is directly linked to our ability to keep our staff safe.”

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Michael Donaghu | VP, Nike Innovation: “Early morning on Friday, March 20, I got a call asking if I could pull a few people together. We had just started encouraging our teams to telework, so I was calling people up and asking, ‘Hey, can you jump into a meeting? Can we dial you in? We need to get a team together and see what we can do.’” 

Prototyping for the Healthcare Athlete

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Rob Barnette | VP, Nike NXT Digital Innovation: “That morning, OHSU delivered a sample of the face shield that their healthcare workers wear, which was on the list of their most critical needs. That gave us a target to work towards.”

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Donaghu: “The OHSU team came out to our campus a couple of hours later, so that we could meet and make sure we were headed in the right direction. By the time they showed up, we probably had 20 to 25 prototypes built.”

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Barnette: “They were able to get them on ER and ICU staff for field-testing that afternoon and evening.”

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Enomoto: “I never in a million years would have dreamed that I would have an opportunity to work with designers and engineers in this way. They brought in prototypes for my colleagues and I to try on to make sure that they fit and functioned properly. And it was just incredible, the energy that they brought – at one point, I met with them three times over one weekend.”

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Donaghu: “From the beginning, we framed it up very much like an athlete project. The athlete is the healthcare worker – let’s reorient ourselves completely around that.”

Moto-Helmets and Dumpster Dives

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Barnette: “As it happens, that first day we met with the OHSU team, I had ridden in on my motorcycle. As they were reviewing our prototypes, they looked over and saw my helmet. And they looked up and said, hey, by the way, we also have this other critical need.”

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Donaghu: “It reminded them of the helmets they wear as part of their PAPRs – powered, air-purifying respirators. So that’s how we started working on PAPR lenses, too.”

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Enomoto: “I chair the hospital’s code blue team. That’s a team of emergency responders that comes in when a patient’s heart stops or their breathing stops. This involves aerosol-generating procedures that cause the virus to be released into the air, which increases the risk of transmission. The PAPR is really important in keeping our responders safe, and the lenses are something that we were really critically low on.”

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Barnette: “They let us borrow a full PAPR device for a couple hours so we could do some reverse-engineering. We created our own digital files. Then we started substituting materials in and laying them up on the presses.”

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Enomoto: “We worked a lot on the clarity of the lens, the fit and the angle, to make sure we can see comfortably in any setting. They made sure of durability, which has meant so much to our team.”

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Donaghu: “For the face shield prototypes, we grabbed elastic cording and stretchable bands, toggles and endcaps from footwear material and apparel samples. Basically, we were dumpster-diving in sample rooms. People were heading off in all different directions to bring back found objects.”

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Barnette: “We apologize for the messes we made all over campus.”

The Right Stuff

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Donaghu: “Early on, we identified three guardrails. One, materials – what did we already have in our own supply chain so that we wouldn’t be taking away from others? Two, methods of make – what processes could we leverage in-house? And three, holding ourselves accountable to the need to scale.”

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Barnette: “Our teams at Air MI – Air Manufacturing Innovation – were with us on this from day one. I can’t say enough about the expertise, the speed and precision, that they brought to translating our cobbled-up ideas into full-blown production tooling. They were working out bugs and kinks on the fly, doing in hours and days what would normally take weeks and months.” 

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Chuck Carlisle | General Manager, Nike Air Manufacturing Innovation, Oregon: “It was a product that we had never made before. And we needed to do it fast, and we needed to do it at scale. But in a way, this was a challenge tailor-made for us. We had the right materials. We had the right technology. And most importantly, we had the right team.”

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Cheryl Renne | General Manager, Nike Air Manufacturing Innovation, Missouri: “Air MI is a 24/7 operation. There’s no such thing as a slow day here. Ever. But when our teams learned about what we were making, they took it to another level. Manufacturing, quality, warehouse, engineering, HR, maintenance — you name it, people raised their hands and asked how they could help.”

Woven Into Nike's DNA

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Judy Dunbar | Director, Social and Community Impact, Converse: “As we’ve been working with hospitals to distribute the donations and I’ve been talking to their development teams, one of the things we’ve all said is how lucky we feel to have a front-row seat to how people are rallying around our healthcare workers.”

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Walsh: “I think about the chain of people across the medical center who have reorganized themselves to better care for critically-ill patients: doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists. The people behind the scenes: our environmental services, dietary, development and supply chain teams. To see a company stop what they’re doing to help our staff stay safe, it’s just incredibly gratifying.”

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Brim-Edwards: “We have these weekly calls, bringing together the teams working on this. And everyone is there because they believe that we have a unique ability to do something – to help our communities and support the front-line workers who are protecting our families, our parents, our grandparents, our neighbors.”

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Donaghu: “I can’t really look back on this yet – we’re still in it. But there’s one thing that’s crossed my mind. Just like with anything else we make at Air MI, we’re recycling a lot of the unused scrap material that’s left over from this. We’ll regrind it and it’ll go into future products. It’ll work its way into future Nike Air-Soles.” 

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Barnette: “It’s already working its way into Nike’s DNA.”

On April 3, Nike delivered the team’s first shipment of full-face shields and PAPR lenses to hospital workers at Oregon Health & Science University. To date, Nike’s teams have shipped approximately 130,000 units – and counting – of personal protective equipment to more than 20 hospitals across Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon and Tennessee.

We’re also donating 250,000 three-ply disposal face masks to New York State. Nike’s leaders, the Nike Foundation and Nike have committed more than $17.5 million to global COVID-19 response efforts, including an additional $500,000 to help New York organizations providing food assistance, medical care and support to vulnerable populations.

We will continue to seek ways to further support healthcare workers’ tireless efforts to protect our communities during these extraordinary times.

We remain awed and inspired by their service.

For the latest updates on Nike’s PPE donation efforts, read more here.