VHHA partners with new Va.-based company for medical-grade masks
Olivian, founded in March, produces masks domestically
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association and its Shared Services Corp. subsidiary have partnered with a newly founded Richmond-area business to obtain domestically produced medical-grade face masks for hospitals and other health care providers in Virginia, VHHA announced Monday.
Olivian’s masks are not N95 but are considered medical-grade.
The announcement comes after months of concerns across the country that hospitals and doctors’ offices were too reliant on Chinese medical mask producers to maintain sufficient supplies for frontline COVID-19 responders. Virginia signed a $27 million contract with Norfolk-based Northfield Medical Manufacturing LLC in April to ship N95 masks and other personal protective equipment from Asia, when states turned to private market negotiations to get PPE, which was running short nationally.
Although nonmedical face masks, hand sanitizer and other supplies are plentiful now, medical-grade masks, which protect wearers from airborne particles, still are running short in many places.
Olivian, founded by Wendy Jiang Scelia in March, has led an interesting history. Scelia was part of the team that co-founded Tablee, a Richmond-based startup that was part of the Lighthouse Labs’ 2018 accelerator cohort, which produced a button for restaurant tables that allows patrons to page their waitstaff when they needed something. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tablee Tap was no longer in high demand.
An engineer who received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, Scelia shifted focus to a new startup, Olivian, earlier this year to create a domestic pipeline for medical-grade masks. Olivian is a client of Blackbriar Regulatory Services, a spinoff company of Avail Vapor. BRS manufactures masks and other items in a plant in Chesterfield, and Olivian has opened other manufacturing operations in Houston. Olivian is registered with the Food and Drug Administration, and it has started a monthly subscription service for masks.
Olivian’s goal is to create 100 domestic jobs and manufacture 40 million masks per month in the United States. Scelia changed gears after her brother’s wife, a nurse in Connecticut, said her unit was running low on PPE, especially disposable masks. After using her supply chain connections to get masks to her sister-in-law’s hospital, Scelia said she realized the need for a reliable domestic manufacturing operation.
“What began as a response to a family situation has rapidly [evolved] into a homegrown business providing local jobs while contributing to the response to a global health crisis,” Scelia said in a statement.
“Access to the supplies and equipment needed to respond to COVID-19, from PPE to testing kits and remdesivir, has been an ongoing challenge for Virginia hospitals and other health care providers since the pandemic arrived in March,” VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton said in a statement. “The association has actively pursued multiple strategies to acquire PPE and establish new supply lines. This exciting new partnership with Olivian is a critical step forward in that work.”
VHHA did not disclose financial terms of the contract or how many masks Olivian will provide to health care providers in Virginia. The association includes 110 hospitals and 26 health systems.