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Sparks company producing ‘ear savers’ for healthcare workers; donates initial $200K for COVID efforts

A Sierra Nevada Corporation engineer wears a facemask with an “ear saver,” a device the advanced manufacturing company started producing to donate to healthcare workers in Reno-Sparks.
Courtesy Sierra Nevada Corporation

SPARKS, Nev. — Three months ago, if you were asked to picture a healthcare worker, you would likely imagine a smiling doctor or nurse — blue scrubs, arms crossed — with a stethoscope around their neck.

Today, imagine a healthcare worker, and the bottom half of their face is likely covered by an N95 mask.

Amid the outbreak of the highly contagious coronavirus, most healthcare professionals are wearing facemasks all day, every day, for incredibly long shifts. As a result, these essential workers are suffering from much discomfort — chief among them, ear pain.

In response, a Sparks-based advanced manufacturing company is answering the call to help alleviate that pain for frontline workers.

Sierra Nevada Corporation — a global aerospace and national security contractor that produces everything from spacecrafts to pilot safety equipment — is using its resources to produce “ear savers.”

Using laser cutters, SNC is making devices that allow people to wear a mask without having straps hook around their ears. Instead, the device fits around the back of a person’s neck, making an N95 or surgical mask more comfortable for long-term wear.

“We thought, if there is a solution out there that can relieve pain among healthcare workers and first responders, then let’s figure out a way to give them what they need to relieve that pain,” Brooke Hart, VP of communications at SNC, said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “There were people working from home and in their garages to figure out how to make it work.”

Hart said SNC learned about the need in early April through one of its engineers who had seen reports of doctors and nurses experiencing ear pain from wearing masks. 

Sierra Nevada Corporation uses laser-cutting technology to produce the “ear savers” it is donating to healthcare workers in the area. SNC has already donated more than 2,000 ear savers.
Courtesy Sierra Nevada Corporation

Days later, the company, which is owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, began producing ear savers and started donating them to local hospitals in Reno-Sparks.

Since, SNC has donated more than 2,000 ear savers, said Hart, adding that the company will continue to produce them based on requests for more. The company says it has the capability to produce hundreds of ear savers a day.

“It’s heartbreaking to think that there are nurses and other frontline workers that are enduring this kind of pain on a regular basis,” Hart said. “It seems like literally the least we can do to figure out how to use our resources to help them.”

Hart noted that SNC also recently started producing and delivering plastic frames for face shields for healthcare workers.

“At SNC,” she continued, “we say we support and protect explorers and heroes. We are in the space business, we serve our military, we find ways to protect and support them with technology that saves lives and enables them to do their work and achieve their missions safely.

“For SNC to find ways even in our community to help first responders do their jobs safely and more effectively is right in line with SNC’s mission.” 

Sierra Nevada Corporation is making and delivering plastic frames for face shields for healthcare workers in Reno-Sparks.
Courtesy Sierra Nevada Corporation

COVID RECOVERY CAMPAIGN

SNC’s philanthropic efforts haven’t stopped there.

The company also launched a COVID Recovery Campaign to support global COVID relief efforts and veterans impacted by the pandemic. What’s more, the Ozmens have committed to personally match donations dollar-for-dollar up to $200,000.

“We want to provide an outlet for employees to step up, because everyone is seeing these needs around them,” Hart said. “And I think many people are asking themselves the question of how can I help?”

Through SNC’s campaign, employees can contribute to two charitable organizations. This includes the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which aids nonprofits working to support response and recovery activities, as well as the PenFed Foundation, which provides financial assistance to veterans, active duty, reserve and national guard members experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic.

“Our goal is to raise half a million dollars toward recovery efforts,” Hart said.

In less than 10 days, the company had raised $35,000, she added.

IMPACTED BY PANDEMIC?

As a company, Hart said SNC has not been impacted by the coronavirus crisis since it is an essential business that works with the U.S. military and other government agencies. 

In fact, SNC in late April was selected to provide key crew module technology for NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS). NASA’s HLS will ferry astronauts and cargo to and from the moon’s surface for the agency’s Artemis program, according to Hart.

“We’ve continued to serve our customers and protect our employees at the same time throughout the pandemic,” Hart said of SNC, which has more than 4,000 employees in 33 locations, including 700 employees in its production facility in Sparks. “We feel like it’s our duty and a privilege to continue to work through this time.”


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