Dr. Phillips hospital nursing staff creates sleeping bags for homeless

Members of the nursing staff at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital are turning used surgical equipment wraps into sleeping bags and pillows for the homeless.

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  • | 1:53 p.m. September 4, 2019
  • Southwest Orange
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Sometimes, creating something that will make a difference in a person’s life takes a little bit of teamwork — and a whole lot of heart.

Impacting people’s lives and ensuring they are taken care of is the job that nurses and doctors, among others, are tasked with. 

So, when one of the nursing teams at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital found out about a project they could take part in that would benefit both people and the environment, they immediately got to work.



This particular project involves taking surgical equipment wraps and turning them into sleeping bags for the homeless. Surgical equipment wraps are durable and heat retaining, and they are used to cover trays of surgical equipment during the sterilization process.

The wraps are soft and water resistant, too — but once they’re removed from the sterilized trays in the operating room, they’re discarded. Some nurses around the country have begun collecting the wraps, however, and sewing them to create sleeping mats for the homeless.

“Our instruments have to be sterile,” said Karen Sammartino, a registered nurse at the hospital. “They get wrapped and put into a big indoor sterilizer so that everything inside is now sterile. When we bring it to the sterile field, the … person opens it up, unwraps our sterile instruments and puts it on the table. We take the wraps and take them to the trash. They can’t be reused.”

While the wraps can’t be reused for sterilization, they’re clean and perfect material to create sleeping bags or mats out of.

Tracie Craddock, a registered nurse at the hospital, said she found the idea on a Facebook group she was a part of.

“Knowing how many wraps we throw away, the SPD (Sterile Processing Department) supervisor and I contacted the hospital to see if it was OK if we do it,” Craddock said. 

After getting the OK from the hospital, Craddock brought the idea to the hospital’s Unit Nurse Practice Council for their thoughts. Everyone agreed that it was a good idea, she said — the only question was, “How do we start?”

“(The sleeping bags) are actually comfortable. We are helping with the planet as well, setting an example with recycling.” — Desiree Bagley

The nurses involved began by spreading word around the hospital that they would be collecting the surgical equipment wraps to create sleeping bags. The response from staff was enormous.

“I was always approached by people saying, ‘When are you collecting it, where are you putting it?’” said Desiree Bagley, another registered nurse involved with the project. “All these people really wanted to save the wrappers and help us have enough wrappers to be able to start with the project.”

In just one week, the group collected carts full of the wraps, which otherwise would have been discarded. On any given day, Craddock said, if the hospital is sterilizing trays from outside vendors, there can be anywhere from 70 to 125 discarded wraps a day — not including the hospital’s own.

While the idea came from an article posted on social media, the team at the Dr. P. Phillips Hospital came up with the idea of taking it a step further by creating sleeping bags and pillows rather than just sleeping mats.

“The pillows and the sleeping bags are designed by us,” said Cory McFarlane, another registered nurse involved. “Originally what we got from New Jersey was how to make a mat, but the actual 6-foot-long sleeping bag is ours. The mats are usually 3 to 4 feet long. They’re only so wide, too, so it wasn’t much use.”



With the help of fellow registered nurse Jennifer Wu, who creates many of her own costumes for comic conventions, the team came up with a game plan for assembling and sewing the wraps to create the sleeping bags and pillows.

The surgical wraps are durable, heat retaining and water resistant, making them a great material for sleeping bags and mats.
The surgical wraps are durable, heat retaining and water resistant, making them a great material for sleeping bags and mats.

Each sleeping bag is made from eight wraps, and the two-ply wraps are double stacked on both sides to create more cushion. The pillows are made from the smaller wraps and are stuffed inside with other wrappers.

Since July, the team has met twice to assemble and sew the sleeping bags and pillows. The first meeting was spent more on figuring out the design and best process for assembly. It takes two people to sew the bags because the wraps are thick when stacked. One person guides the wraps and the other focuses on sewing. 

Typically, there are two to three sewing machines available for use. Much of the nursing team involved has learned how to sew thanks to this project, and there are about 14 sleeping bags that have been assembled and sewn thus far. They still are receiving more wraps daily and hope to meet once a month to keep up with putting the sleeping bags and pillows together.

Now that the nurses have their design and assembly process down, they are working out which charities and organizations they will end up donating the sleeping bags and pillows to. In the meantime, they are enjoying being able to work alongside each other outside of regular shifts while contributing to a good cause. 

Word of their project has spread on social media, too. A post on Facebook has thousands of shares, and Craddock has received calls from hospitals in at least eight other states asking for directions to make the sleeping bags.

“The group of us that came the last couple of times, most of the time we’re working together in the same cases, in the same service line, so we get our ways of working and just have really great chemistry,” Bagley said. “I get warm and fuzzy thinking someone out there (will have) something to lay on versus cardboard or grass. (The sleeping bags) are actually comfortable. We are helping with the planet as well, setting an example with recycling.”

“I have friends in other states reaching out asking, ‘How do we get this started? We’re going to do the same thing,’” Sammartino said. “Once you put it out there, it’s like, ‘OK, that’s a great idea, let’s do it.’ I just like doing something for other people. It’s just a good feeling.”


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