When the COVID-19 virus took hold, first responders were in urgent need for more personal protective equipment (PPE). Nurses, doctors, and others found that face masks, face shields, and other equipment were in short supply, making it very dangerous to be a person on the front lines.
SmileDirectClub’s co-founder, Alex Fenkell speaks about how the company has delivered tens of thousands of components for masks and face shields to the people putting their lives at risk to save others.
What did it take to change their business completely and help those in need? Multiple important things had to happen. Here’s how SmileDirectClub went from being a business that helped people develop the smiles they’ve always wanted to also seeing the smiles of relief from first responders once they got the PPE that they needed.
Last year, SmileDirectClub made an important decision to draft an army of HP 3D Jet Fusion Printers to create the company’s clear aligners, which allow customers to straighten their teeth gradually. The company chose these printers for their ability to create smooth, detailed parts by the thousands. So when first responders asked for more PPE to treat those infected by COVID-19, the team at SmileDirectClub knew that these printers could step in and deliver what the medical professionals and essential workers needed.
The original plan was to have the 3D printers make 20 million printed clear aligners for SmileDirectClub customers per year. With the new plan, the printers are set to create the band that carries face shields, as well as the face shields themselves.
Alex Fenkell said that the company jumped at the opportunity to help first responders, and once a plan was in place, it was great to move forward with it. SmileDirectClub has since delivered tens of thousands of mask and PPE components to first responders and medical professionals since COVID-19 began.
Despite many stories of hospitals being short on PPE thanks to the pandemic, many healthcare organizations and systems have very strict rules on where PPE comes from. In other words, a healthcare organization cannot simply accept PPE from even the most reputable companies; procedures must be established first.
For SmileDirectClub, this barrier meant having to establish new relationships with healthcare professionals and first responder teams so that they could accept the PPE printed by SDC. For SmileDirectClub, this meant that rapid, meaningful introductions had to be made, and relationships had to be built quickly, as time was of the essence. Once SmileDirectClub began making those calls, they found many people who wanted to work with the teeth straightening company to get the right protective gear.
Before the pandemic, SmileDirectClub signed a deal with CVS pharmacies to offer the company’s products via SmileShops, where SmileDirectClub customers can get a scan of their teeth and start the straightening process. But once the PPE was available, SmileDirectClub offered it to CVS employees, like pharmacists, who spent day in and day out serving customers who were most likely suffering from a variety of ailments – potentially including COVID-19.
Hospital healthcare workers also received PPE from SmileDirectClub, including those at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Alex Fenkell told us how SmileDirectClub donated hundreds of medical-grade face shields to the hospital’s doctors, who were tasked with treating children with a variety of illnesses. Since children undergoing medical treatments for cancer and other ailments often suffer from immune system deficiencies, it’s more important than ever for their doctors to wear face shields.
“We are grateful to corporate leaders such as SmileDirectClub for providing essential personal protective equipment to front-line staff during the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kevin Goldthorp, president and chief development officer of the SickKids Foundation. “Their generous support will help ensure that The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) continues to provide the best care possible for patients and their families during these unprecedented times.”
Another hospital-based in Boise, Idaho, St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center, received the first 1,000 face shields produced by SmileDirectClub in April. SmileDirectClub also worked to produce PPE for medical professionals where the company is based, in Nashville, Tennessee. Even with drive-through testing facilities planned in Tennessee, many of the facilities could not open because there wasn’t enough PPE available for those doing the nasal swabs.
According to Alex Fenkell, the entire process was about helping those in need when they needed it most, rather than shining a spotlight on the company itself. And while SmileDirectClub’s plan to deliver hundreds of thousands of PPE units worked out without a hitch, the company isn’t ruling out switching back to printing face shields, mask components, and other items should the need arise again.
“We’ve been so proud to do our part in helping first responders, and I can’t tell you how great it feels to know that people are doing their part to protect those most vulnerable,” said Alex Fenkell. “Now that we know how to create this essential PPE, we can pivot and do this again whenever it’s necessary to protect those on the front lines. We’re ready.”