Sew helpful: Scripps Memorial Hospital volunteers make scrub caps to address shortage

A Scripps Health employee models surgical scrub caps sewed by a team of volunteers.

A group of local hospital volunteers has taken to sewing machines to make surgical scrub caps in an effort to cheer up medical staff with bright fabrics as well as altruism.

Letitia Olais, administrative coordinator for volunteer services at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, is heading up the sewing force as a response to a shortage of personal protective equipment for medical workers due to a coronavirus-related spike in demand.

“Our supply chain reached out to us because they were having issues trying to get the disposable [surgical] caps and bonnets,” Olais said. “They asked if I had any volunteers who can sew who could help us with cotton caps that they could reuse.”

Olais quickly reached out to her team of volunteers, who were unable to attend hospital hours as usual because of stay-at-home orders issued for nonessential activities.

“We put an ad in our volunteer newsletter for anyone who wants to help,” Olais said. “I got some people who said they’d be happy to help out.”

Olais said she and six others began sewing surgical scrub caps in April, producing both the skull cap style for those with short hair and bouffant caps for longer hair.

Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla nurse Diana Belisario models a donated surgical scrub bouffant.

Olais said she was asked to provide 600 caps and the team has donated 669 so far.

“We’ve had such an overwhelming response of the employees loving it,” Olais said.

She said Scripps’ suppliers asked her to produce more, so she sent a second request to a wider community list, asking more employees and volunteers to help make caps.

One sewing team member, a Scripps urgent care center nurse, recruited 10 women from a sewing organization to help make the caps.

“We’re trying to get as [many caps as we can],” Olais said. “It’s ongoing.”

The 669 caps represent more than 800 volunteer hours, Olais estimated.

Olais buys fabric locally (paid for by Scripps) and washes it and dries it on high heat. She said she then irons it all and separates it into 2-yard increments to dole out to the volunteers.

“I tried to get as cheerful material as possible,” she said.

Olais said she goes every other week to meet the sewing volunteers outside the Scripps facility, where she swaps their finished caps for more materials.

Olais also sews caps, which take a lot of time to assemble because “there’s a lot of steps involved. I cut out 10 at a time using patterns, pin it all, then sew the material together,” she said.

The caps are given primarily to Scripps Memorial and Scripps Green hospitals in La Jolla and Scripps Memorial in Encinitas, Olais said. They are washed after use and then reused.

“Nurses at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla say they love the surgical bonnets sewn by the volunteers because they are so colorful and they get to pick their own, which is fun,” Olais said. “The bonnets also do a great job covering their head. They feel very lucky to have their own caps to wear.”

Surgical scrub caps made by Scripps volunteers come in a variety of colors and patterns.
Surgical scrub caps made by Scripps volunteers come in a variety of colors and patterns.

Staff members who have received the caps were unavailable for comment.

Olais and her team will keep sewing for now. “Our volunteers are so appreciative to be able to do something for the hospital, for the community,” she said. “They really want to come back; we’re just not ready for them to come back yet. They’re helping out any way they can, and we just love to have them help as much as possible.” ◆