Boston Children’s Simulator Program steps up during COVID-19

SIMPeds staff who helped out during COVID-19
These are just a few members of the SIMPeds staff who had the hospital’s back at the start of the pandemic. L-R: Gabriel Arato, Stephen Wilson, Christopher Pak, Gerard Libby, Andrew Edman. (Photos: Michael Goderre/Boston Children’s Hospital)

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals scrambled to adapt and prepare. Amid the chaos, the Boston Children’s Hospital Simulator Program, SIMPeds, sprang into action.

SIMPeds is a world leader in running live simulations of care scenarios, allowing health care providers to rehearse tough or unanticipated situations in advance. Its SIMEngineering division is a leader in the rapid prototyping of medical devices, anatomic models to train clinicians on rarely-used procedures, and models that replicate an individual patient’s anatomy to help surgeons plan difficult operations.

When COVID-19 hit, SIMEngineering quickly began producing personal protective equipment (PPE) and other helpful items on its 3D printers — everything from custom shields to nasal swabs and ear protectors for N-95 mask wearers.

“Over 14 weeks, the team completed 36 requests for device solutions,” says Stephen Wilson, SIMPeds director of development engineering. “We were inspired by the people and teams looking to collaborate and problem-solve.”

Thanks to the hospital’s supply chain management group, Environmental Health & Safety, and others, Boston Children’s was able to get enough PPE through official sources and careful reuse. But SIMEngineering’s efforts weren’t for naught.

“A safety net of workable solutions was put in place, but thankfully we never had to use it,” says Wilson.

PPE for clinical simulations and more

While not needed for patient care, the PPE solutions have been put to good use in staff training around COVID-19 care. SIMPeds has staged a series of simulations to help clinicians practice donning and doffing PPE and adapt to new COVID-19 protocols and reconfigured work spaces. 

“We unearthed all the things that needed to change, and built a variety of process scenarios around the COVID response,” says Gabe Arato, SIMPeds program manager for strategy and business development. “We implemented these clinically at Boston Children’s and shared them with partner institutions.”

Here’s a sampling of what SIMEngineering created:

spacer for hand sanitizer pump
This adaptor limits the amount of hand sanitizer dispensed by a pump — vital in the early days of the pandemic when hand sanitizer was hard to get.
face shield made by SIMPeds for COVID-19
This face shield was one of the multiple designs fabricated for use in clinical simulations to conserve PPE, and ready to be pursued as a solution if officially sourced PPE became unavailable. Another such back-up item was a hood for clinicians to wear during N95 respirator fit-testing.
covid-19 mask SIMPeds
Boston Children’s got its N95 masks from official suppliers, but as new models were introduced, SIMEngineering prototyped solutions to help them pass “fit testing.”
PAPR hood made by SIMEngineering
This hood for a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) system, designed with Drs. Dennis Poe and Mark Volk in otolaryngology, passed pre-certification testing, the initial step toward establishing a locally-sourced supply for clinical use in the event of a prolonged national distribution delay.
adaptor for respirator, made by SIMEngineering
One of the simple but critical adaptors made by SIMEngineering to connect different filters to different brands of respirators. This would have allowed the hospital to make use of incompatible masks and filters should compatible sets become unavailable.
3D-printed nasal swab made by SIMPeds during COVID-19
3D-printed nasal swabs for COVID-19 testing were produced on site by the thousands and held in reserve for clinical use. Fortunately, the hospital’s supply chain team was successful in maintaining a commercial supply.
ear savers for surgical masks, made by SIMEngineering
In collaboration with local and industry partners, SIMEngineering fabricated more than 1,000 of these “ear savers” and made them available to staff to ease surgical mask ear loop discomfort.
handless door opener for COVID-19, made by SIMEngineering
This 3D-printed handless door pull was designed for people to hook their elbows around. But there were concerns that it might actually contribute to the spread of COVID-19, so it was shelved.

A COVID-19 safety net

While not all items made the cut or were ultimately needed, SIMPeds and SIMEngineering helped Boston Children’s be prepared during a frightening time.

“By collaborating closely with Supply Chain Management and Environmental Health & Safety, we were able to direct our efforts to the areas of greatest risk,” says Wilson. “Creating actionable contingency plans conveyed a sense of control.”

“Without the ability to use this equipment for simulations, the learning curve would have been much steeper,” adds Arato. “We couldn’t have been so nimble; we couldn’t have scaled up clinical operations so rapidly.”

Learn more about SIMPeds and SIMEngineering.

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