NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The Quonset Development Corporation is playing a key role in securing vital personal protective equipment for doctors, nurses, first responders and other caregivers to use during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the head of this daily effort to get the protective gear into the hands of front-line medical professionals in Rhode Island is QDC Managing Director Steven J. King.
“Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a top priority for Rhode Island, including all of the necessary protective equipment to protect the health care work force,” King said.
A decorated Persian Gulf War veteran, King is a University of Rhode Island graduate and a former platoon leader and company executive officer with the U.S. Army’s 588th Engineer Battalion.
He’s also a civil engineer and 20-year veteran of the QDC, where he’s served as chief operating officer, director of construction services and project engineer. Prior to joining the QDC, he worked for several consulting engineering firms in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts with emphasis on site development and transportation projects. He took charge of the QDC in June 2007.
During his tenure, private sector employment increased by more than 40 percent, plus more than 3 million square feet of new building construction, according to the QDC. Port and rail cargo volume each increased by almost 200 percent. He has overseen more than $130 million dollars of projects for utility, roadway, rail, building and port construction.
With more than 12,000 jobs at more than 200 companies, the 3,212-acre Quonset Business Park is well-suited to act as the distribution center for the equipment. A Bryant University study last year on the economic impact of the Quonset Business Park and Port of Davisville show the park supported $4.3 billion in economic output in the state.
It’s also a logistically sound location. The state announced last week that it would use a former Lowe’s home improvement store in the park and convert it into a temporary medical care center with hundreds of beds. They would be put into use if the state’s hospitals become inundated with patients in a surge of coronavirus cases.
The Lowe’s site is one of three such centers taking shape in the state; the others are the former Citizens Bank headquarters in Cranston and the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence.
Gov. Gina Raimondo announced April 1 that she had enlisted King to head up the PPE supply chain several weeks ago.
“I said, ‘Steve, I’m calling you in off the bench. I need to to assemble a team to do nothing but 24/7 get us, the state of Rhode Island, PPE. And he’s doing that in every way possible,” Raimondo said.
The state has since procured a half-million respiratory masks and the same number of surgical masks, Raimondo said.
“We have been scouring the world for the critical supplies that are necessary to keep people safe,” she said.
King and the QDC are part of what Raimondo called a comprehensive response to the anticipated surge of patients.
“We have teams in place now to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure we get through it as safely as we can,” she said.
King and his team have been on a non-stop mission of contacting local manufacturers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (headed by Rhode Islander Peter Gaynor) and other suppliers to round up masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, goggles, respirators and more.
A supply stream that didn’t exist three weeks ago now has more than 5 million N95 masks and 3 million surgical masks on the way to Rhode Island, along with hundreds of thousands of gloves and gowns.
“The team includes the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, locally assigned FEMA representatives, Rhode Island Department of Health representatives, a representative from the governor’s staff and QDC personnel,” King said. The RIEMA is integrated into FEMA’s regional response effort, and FEMA personnel work on-site with the RIEMA, King said.
The supplies arrive into a central receiving facility managed by the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency within the Quonset Air National Guard Base.
“The RIEMA team is distributing supplies in cooperation with the Rhode Island Department of Health through the department of health warehouse and six other community based locations,” King said.
Every day is a battle for equipment and supplies for King’s team. Sometimes, after an order is made the federal government diverts it, such as if FEMA makes a larger order of supplies it needs to send to New York or New Orleans, Raimondo said.
“The direction I’ve given the team is, you can’t let up, even when you think we’re in good shape, you have to go order more,” she said.
To help in the effort, local companies have re-tooled parts of their operations to make, package and ship the needed gear.
“Local manufacturers have offered to assist in many ways including manufacture of face masks, face shields and surgical gowns,” King said. “enVision Solutions Group in Cumberland has been contracted to provide 30,000 protective face shields.”
Other Rhode Island businesses have joined the effort. Honeywell announced March 22 that it would expand its manufacturing operations in Smithfield to make millions of N95 disposable face masks for use around the country.
King’s job, and that of his team, is ultimately to get goods that can be used in Rhode Island. Equipment includes N95 respirators, surgical masks, surgical gowns, protective coveralls, eye protection, face shields, nitrile exam gloves and hand sanitizer.
“The goal is to procure PPE needed for healthcare providers and first responders in Rhode Island,” he said.