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Cooperative effort brings 1.5 million masks to Greenville

Ross Norton //April 27, 2020//

Cooperative effort brings 1.5 million masks to Greenville

Ross Norton //April 27, 2020//

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A Boeing Dreamlifter lands at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport with about 1.5 million face masks for distribution throughout the Prisma Health system; 100,000 will be donated to MUSC. (Photo/Ross Norton)

A Scotsman in Greenville called some people he knew and caused about 1.5 million face masks from China to land on a tarmac at GSP.

It wasn’t nearly that simple, Neil Ferrier said Sunday afternoon as politicians, reporters and representatives from Prisma Health and Boeing watched a Dreamlifter land with the cargo at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport’s Cerulean Aviation facilities.

“The full story of it would probably read like a movie script,” said Ferrier, owner of Discommon, an industrial design company. “It has been an astonishing series of events. I shouldn’t have been surprised. South Carolina is an incredible place for us and it was basically one phone call before we had 100% dedication to see this though from the partners involved.”

Discommon founder Neil Ferrier, right, talks with S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster as they wait for a Boeing Dreamlifter to touch down at GSP with personal protective equipment coming directly from China. (Photo/Ross Norton)Like health care systems everywhere, Prisma Health is constantly looking for supplies of personal protective equipment in its battle against COVID-19.

Discommon designs and sells high-end luxury products that usually have nothing to do with medical supplies. However, Ferrier was aware of the PPE shortage, and his connections in China said they could make medical-grade masks. He contacted U.S. Rep. William Timmons, who reached out to Prisma Health, and soon the state’s largest health system had another source for PPE.

International delivery of PPE has been problematic since the COVID-19 pandemic began causing heavy use of medical supplies around the world.

Ferrier made a call for that, too. Through connections from college, the Clemson University alumnus reached out to Boeing and soon had a way to move the masks from China to Greenville.

“I was standing off to the side on my own, a little in awe of it all,” Ferrier said shortly after the Dreamlifter touched down. “I own an industrial design firm and we say that great design is solving a problem beautifully. And I think what is so incredible here is that 50-plus people and a whole number of companies have come together to solve a problem beautifully.”

The shipment bypassed extensive delays and eliminated shipping costs, according to a news release from Prisma Health.

Discommon was the importer of record for the shipment of three-ply ear-loop masks. Boeing donated the cost of the mission transport, and Atlas Air operated the flights on behalf of Boeing, according to the news release.

“It’s a win-win for South Carolina health care providers and a perfect example of private companies working with elected officials to help health care workers and the people they serve,” Mark O’Halla, president and CEO of Prisma Health, said in the news release. “We very much appreciate Boeing’s support during these challenging times of securing necessary supplies. By standing together, we all stand stronger.”

As a tribute to the Charleston-area employees who made the Dreamlifter, Prisma Health plans to donate 100,000 masks to the Medical University of South Carolina.

Prisma Health has been ramping up its supply inventory since January, according to the news release, but with a policy that requires everyone in a Prisma Health building to be masked — workers, patients and visitors — the 30,000-employee organization uses a lot of PPE. Sunday’s shipment is expected to last about four weeks.

“Boeing is proud to be part of this historic flight to bring vital PPE to health care workers across South Carolina,” Dave Calhoun, president and CEO of Boeing, said in the news release. “I want to offer my personal thanks to the Boeing team and our Atlas Air partners for what they’ve done to support this essential mission and ensure our frontline health care workers have the equipment they critically need.”