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Hickey Freeman workers to help make medical masks for RGH



An iconic Rochester company will help in the effort to get protective face masks in the hands of some local medical professionals who are trying to gather more equipment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hickey Freeman Tailored Clothing (HFTC), a clothing manufacturer that has been around for more than 120 years in Rochester, has announced that it will begin production of face masks for the medical staff at Rochester General Hospital.

“We have hundreds of the best sewing machine operators in the country. When Rochester General made the request, of course we answered the call. We will do whatever it takes,” said Stephen Granovsky, CEO of HFTC. “This is a small contribution compared to the health care workers we are helping protect.”

The HFTC factory will begin manufacturing with an initial on-site staff of about 20 people, which will grow as needed. Granvosky expects that number to grow to more than 200 workers as the company is able to source additional material for the masks.

The facility had temporarily closed its operations to safeguard the health of the hundreds of employees who work in close proximity. New practices for distance and disinfection will be implemented to protect the staff brought back to make the masks.

Staffers at RGH worked closely with Jeffrey Diduch, Vice President of Technical Design for HFTC, to create a mask that can be used by the hospital staff. Last weekend, there was a call put out on social media for help sewing the masks, and there has already been a response from more than 7,000 volunteers.

“I expected there would be people in the community who would want to help, but the response has exceeded anything I could have imagined,” said Diduch. “In this time of crisis, Americans are ready to do what they can. It’s truly inspiring.”

Credit provided

Granovsky says the company is proud of its long association with Rochester, and noted that during WW II Hickey Freeman was called to help produce uniforms for the military.

“We’re blown away, I mean there isn’t anybody inside our building that isn’t blown away by this in an incredibly energized, positive way, and I will tell you that the hospital told us specifically that it’s energizing their workforce to feel like they have this kind of support in the community,” Granovsky said.

Granovsky says Hickey Freeman initially will produce about 10,000 masks, but he eventually would like to see the Rochester factory be able to produce hundreds of thousands of masks every week, with the possibility they could eventually help additional hospitals. He says the company would also like to make hospital gowns as well. It's possible the gowns would be made at the Hickey Freeman facility in Montreal.

Hickey Freeman is also looking at developing home kits for volunteers who have the sewing skills to contribute to this effort.

Hickey Freeman is considered "essential" with the production of the hospital equipment, and they are allowed to reopen under the recently imposed guidelines that caused many businesses to close. Granovsky says that the Rochester plant will only be making the medical supplies right now and not any of the tailored clothing they would normally make.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.