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Medline ramps up to meet demand for protective gear

In “crisis response mode,” the company spends more to get orders quickly to hospitals, nursing homes and other users.

A Medline Industries operation in Waukegan.
A Medline Industries operation in Waukegan.
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As a manufacturer and distributor of health care supplies and one of the largest private employers in Illinois, Medline Industries has intensified production to save lives. The bottom-line benefit for the family-owned company will be tallied later.

For now, it is humming across three shifts, asking its staff of about 4,000 in three Lake County towns to rush out essential supplies such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. On March 27, it reopened a Waukegan location that uses ethylene oxide to sterilize N95 masks and isolation gowns. Company spokesman Jesse Greenberg said the work has made 100,000 masks and 50,000 gowns daily suitable for reuse.

The facility had been closed while Medline installed a $10 million emissions control system to meet new state standards for ethylene oxide, which causes cancer. Greenberg said the system captures 99.9% of emissions and exceeds state standards.

Greenberg said hourly staffers have been given a raise and paid time off for personal issues as they deal with school closings and other effects of the crisis. Everybody’s temperature is taken before they check in for work, and facility cleaning has been intensified, he said.

“We’re so much in a crisis response mode that we’re not focused on the financials,” Greenberg said. “We know our margins are slimmer and our expenses are higher as we work to get product directly to customers.”

He said the Northfield-based company has been paying for air freight to quickly deliver protective equipment and other material. It also has limited customers to just a fixed percentage of their orders to ensure smaller users, such as nursing homes or health clinics, are served as well as hospitals. Shipments to government-designated “hot zones” are prioritized, he said.

“We own and operate a fleet of 1,000 trucks. The people working at our distribution centers are unsung heroes of this crisis,” Greenberg said.

Medline Industries in Waukegan.
A Medline Industries truck gets its load in Waukegan.
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