A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

UK Extension Service volunteers fulfill need of region’s health care workers during pandemic


By Katie Pratt
University of Kentucky

As COVID-19 cases escalated across the state, a group of University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service volunteers in Northeast Kentucky stepped up to make sure local health care workers had proper protection to administer COVID-19 tests.

The Lewis County Extension office was contacted by Primary Plus, which operates 10 clinics across the region. The health care company faced a challenge in getting the necessary surgical gowns they needed for their employees who were administering COVID-19 tests.

Extension Master Clothing Volunteers Ruby Hord, left, and Leoma Rigdon cut fabric to make surgical gowns that are used by regional health care workers administering COVID-19 tests. (Photo by Mandi Broderick)

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I contacted the extension office because PPE was hard to get and we had exhausted all of our suppliers,” said Steve Arnold, Primary Plus corporate compliance officer. “I knew extension had groups of sewers, because my wife had taken some extension classes.”

Lewis County extension agents Sherrill Bentley, Mandi Broderick and Philip Konopka quickly assembled a group of 36 volunteers from across northeast Kentucky, many of whom were Extension Homemakers and Master Clothing Volunteers.

Primary Plus and the Lewis County Health Department, which also needed gowns, donated all materials for the project. The volunteers made the gowns of reusable cotton material that would withstand frequent laundering.

Leoma Rigdon is a Lewis County Master Clothing Volunteer who made more than 30 gowns for the project.

“The need was so great that I was happy to help them out,” she said.

The volunteers made 250 gowns for the health care facility and additional gowns that were distributed to the Lewis County Health Department.

“Our extension volunteers never hesitated taking on this project. They knew how important it was that our health care workers had gowns to protect themselves, so they could continue to treat patients in our community,” said Bentley.

“Knowing that we were able to help in such an impactful way during this pandemic makes me so happy,” said Broderick, Lewis County family and consumer sciences extension agent. “Our county has many great volunteers and homemakers who never fail to step up to the plate during times of need.”

All the gowns are currently in use by Primary Plus staff. As of mid-November, Primary Plus had administered 10,000 COVID-19 tests across the region.

“There is no way we could have done it without the extension volunteers,” Arnold said. “It helped us out immensely, and we are really proud of them.”

Katie Pratt writes for the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.


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