Hickey Freeman making face masks

Patrick Moussignac
Created: March 20, 2020 06:26 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester Regional Health says it has maybe a two-day supply of both face masks and surgical gowns. 

The problem is so critical hospital leaders are reaching out to Hickey Freeman to get new supplies.


Hickey Freeman is one of the oldest companies here in Rochester, and are known for their men's suits.

Although COVID-19 has temporarily shut the business down, the hospital is now hoping the company can mass-produce these badly needed items, and do it quickly.

It's a race against time for Jeffery Diduch. He's the Vice President of Technical Design for the Hickey Freeman Company. 

The hospital turned to him because Hickey Freeman uses some of the same materials in their suits as the filtration used in face masks.

Diduch says the material is now in high demand.

"The biggest challenge right now we're going to have is finding the raw materials, and in sufficient quantities," Diduch said.

Diduch says the hospital system throws away tens of thousands of masks, and gowns away every day.

Now they're hoping to change that with one designed by Diduch. He spent Friday morning getting different gown sizes as well as different masks to come up with a quick prototype.

"The gowns they would like to be reusable and washable rather than single use, chuck them out when you're done. In fact if they can get masks that were reusable they'd like to be able to do that," Diduch said.

After just a few minutes behind his sewing machine, Diduch was able to make a sample face mask.

"They're thinking that this is better than nothing," Diduch said. "If this doesn't have a filtration rate of 98% of all particulates at point two microns, it’s still better than having a bare face."

Diduch says he has to create a prototype that will be approved by the hospital system before they can be mass-produced by a network of volunteers. People he would have to train immediately.

"I will film instructions on how to sew them so that we can distribute this to people working in their homes rather than bring back our 350 odd employees into the building," Diduch said. "So that we can help prevent the spread of the virus."

Diduch says he's looking for anyone with a sewing machine that can help out. 

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