Partners deliver COVID swabs in a flash

Spectrum Health, Kent County get Keystone’s first batch of up to 60,000 nasal swabs for tests.
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The Keystone crew worked on getting tens of thousands of swabs ready for distribution to Spectrum Health and Kent County. Courtesy Keystone Solutions Group

Keystone Solutions Group recently partnered with The Right Place Inc. to deliver up to 60,000 much-needed nasal swabs to Spectrum Health and Kent County.

Eric Icard, senior business development manager for The Right Place Inc., said the organization recently learned Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids had a critical shortage of nasal swabs in COVID-19 testing kits.

Icard added Spectrum was not the only one in need of nasal swabs. The Kent County Emergency Operations Center also had a critical shortage of swabs and personal protective equipment.

“To my knowledge, there were only a few hundred of these swabs available, both with Spectrum and with the county,” Icard said. “The best way to tackle this is to identify who has COVID, and the only way to do so is with these tests.”

Although Keystone is located in Kalamazoo and is outside of The Right Place’s territory, Icard was familiar with the company because of its involvement in MiDevice.

MiDevice is a MEDC-supported organization dedicated to medical device design, development, manufacturing and distribution. The consortium works to speed the growth and development of medical devices by emphasizing and encouraging collaboration among members to meet overall product lifecycle and supply chain needs. 

Jim Medsker, president of Keystone, said the time from organizing partnerships to getting the final product has shown a gargantuan accelerated effort to get swabs into the hands of the organizations that need them.

“When we’re talking about launching a brand new program with a sterilized, single-use device, this is typically a six-month process,” Medsker said. “From that call with Eric to production, we’re at less than a month.”

Keystone is an FDA-registered and ISO13485:2016-certified manufacturer of single-use disposable and reusable medical products. Medsker said the company is well positioned, because of its designation, to meet the needs of both Spectrum and Kent County.

“One example, a group out of New York has requested as many as 600,000 swabs a week,” Medsker said. “I’d say we have 200 or 300 requests from different hospital groups like that.”

Icard said he first contacted Medsker the morning of April 4, and Keystone sent out the first production of new swabs for final review on April 10.

“From the time I emailed Jim on that Saturday morning to the end of the day, we had initial specs from Spectrum and the county,” Icard added. “I think that speaks to the partnership we have.”

Medsker said the last of the swabs in this initial production run were sent out for sterilization and distribution on April 14.

Approximately 30,000 or 60,000 were sent out in the initial production run. Ongoing production will be determined per Spectrum’s needs.

Keystone’s single-use nasal swabs are available in packs of 100 and come in two styles, tapered and non-tapered.

Keystone also is modifying its current infrastructure to meet demand. Medsker said the process is quite manual at the moment, producing on average 20,000 to 40,000 swabs in a week, but with automation leveraged properly, he believes Keystone could produce the same number in a single day.

“Eric and his team have been really instrumental in this,” Medsker said. “The introductions that Eric has made with the entire Spectrum team and Kent County and others, that’s key to this acceleration.”

Icard said Keystone won’t be the only partner tapped to help.

“The list of needs is quite significant, when you’re talking masks, face shields, sanitizer, gowns, etc.,” Icard said. “We have identified well over 100 manufacturers. It’s just a matter of matching needs to capabilities.”

Medsker said Keystone is funding its own increased production capabilities and continued increase in demand for swabs will drive the extent of its ramp-up in automation. He predicted the overall cost could be around $300,000.

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