I'm confused why is Original Mattress Factory producing medical facemasks?

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Crain’s Cleveland Business September 13, 2023 03:09 PM

The Original Mattress Factory pivots to surgical masks for new company

Paige Bennett 

A machine used to produce masks at The Original Mattress Factory. 

For 33 years, The Original Mattress Factory has manufactured and sold mattresses, but the Cleveland-based company recently ventured into the health care space with the launch of a new personal protective equipment business.

Original Medical Supply, formed by The Original Mattress Factory, produces surgical-style masks for medical and dental professionals in the company’s Cleveland facility using materials sourced exclusively in the U.S.

The three-layer surgical masks are certified ASTM Level 3, meaning they are suitable for procedures with a high risk of fluid exposure. They recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration as a Class II medical device for use in surgical and health care settings. 

 Greg Trzcinski, CEO of The Original Mattress Factory, said the idea for the company came out of the early stages of the pandemic, when health care systems across the country were grappling with personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages.

“We were getting cold calls from all sorts of folks ‘Do we produce any masks or any PPE at all?’” he said. “So, we started working on some designs. They weren’t traditional-looking masks at all because we don’t have mask equipment, we don’t have mask materials, per se. So, we were trying to come up with some thoughts and ideas on how could we help in some way.”

Disruptions to the global supply chain combined with the "lack of effective action by the federal government to maintain and distribute domestic" products contributed to the nation’s PPE shortages, according to a journal published by the National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information.

During the worst of the pandemic PPE shortage, Trzcinski said, the company started making and selling its own version of a mask to nursing homes and health care providers. Through conversations with health care experts, company officials learned that a lot of non-woven materials are used to produce masks, similar to the items used to make mattresses.

The Original Mattress Factory already had relationships with some suppliers that produced non-woven materials. After evaluating available products, Trzcinski said the company realized it could produce masks and sell them for cheaper than the price a lot of nursing homes currently pay.

“It really became a discovery of another situation like in our mattress world of great quality for less price,” he said. “Our key coming into this though was that we had to be 100%, in my mind, U.S.-made, and all the materials sourced from the U.S. We wanted to completely eliminate the overseas logistics.”

The company then secured a PPE Retooling and Reshoring Grant from the state of Ohio to purchase equipment to produce masks and hired Nathan Elseser to serve as director of PPE. The company bought a machine from a German manufacturer called Nucleus.

“It basically takes all the materials, feeds them in, folds them, pleats them, seals them,” Elseser said. “It does the bulk of the actual construction process. We can run that machine pretty quickly. It can produce up to 150 masks a minute. Now right now, I am currently inspecting each mask as it comes off the line, so I have to slow it down a little bit to keep up with the machine and the inspection process.”

The company went through a series of tests to earn FDA approval, which it received at the end of July.

Elseser said he’s focused his marketing efforts on health care communities such as dental offices, surgical centers and long-term care facilities.

“The immediate response has been pretty positive,” he said. “I think folks are excited to know that there is a local manufacturer. I think many of the health care industries went through similar problems during the pandemic, which was supply-chain issues, not being able to find PPE.”

Original Medical Supply has launched a website where customers can purchase masks directly.

“I think it’s interesting—the parallels between our parent company, Original Mattress Factory, and Original Medical Supply,” said Kristen Hastings, corporate marketing director at The Original Mattress Factory. “They’re both kind of factory direct. We make the best product we can at a great value. We cut out the middleman and sell directly to the consumer.”

The company plans to focus exclusively on surgical masks for now, but officials see the potential for expansion to other products, such as gowns, booties, curtains and bedding for health care facilities.