Made by UPMC: Building a Better Mask

By: Rebecca Fischer

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, William (Billy) Flynn, a materials manager at UPMC Whitfield Hospital in Waterford, Ireland, faced a problem: People in nonclinical areas were wearing surgical masks while hospitals were struggling with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Patients were coming into the hospital for appointments scared and requiring masks, and at the time, our only option was to provide them with a surgical mask,” Flynn said. “Quantities were running low, and we needed to conserve those surgical masks for caregivers.”

He began working with Azzurri, a local vendor, to produce cloth masks that could be provided for free to patients to wear inside and outside of the hospital without taking away from the limited supply of PPE. The first sample mask Flynn received was a simple, square piece of fabric, and he immediately knew he could create a more effective design.

L to R: Original sample mask, Flynn’s hand-sewn template, Flynn wears a mask of his own design.


Drawing from his clinical background as an operating room transporter, Flynn deconstructed an old surgical mask and used the material to hand stitch a new pattern — one that he was confident would meet UPMC Whitfield’s needs and offer the necessary protection. After getting approval on the template from hospital leadership, he worked closely with Azzurri to produce the masks exactly as required.

Flynn’s masks are double-layer, antibacterial, 100% polyester material and can be safely and easily donned and doffed. He designed them to be washable and reusable to ensure patients always had adequate face protection available. As a result, roughly 10,000 UPMC-designed cloth masks are now in use in Waterford and beyond, including masks that display the colors of the surrounding counties for community members to share their local pride.

“When I’m out shopping in my mask, there are people walking all around me with their UPMC masks on. It’s great to see,” Flynn said.

Across the UPMC system, staff members are working diligently to find creative solutions to problems they encounter as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first of a three-part series highlighting their efforts. Check back each Wednesday for additional installments.