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New Liskeard furniture maker produces overflow beds for local hospital

Three H Furniture Systems assists Temiskaming Hospital with COVID-19 preparations

A New Liskeard office furniture manufacturer has briefly gone back to its old-school roots to help a local hospital get through a bedding crunch.

Three H Furniture Systems custom designed and delivered 15 beds and side tables to the Temiskaming Hospital to assist in their preparations for a potential surge in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“They’ve been an outstanding community partner,” said Mike Baker, hospital president-CEO, of the family-owned company.

The beds were purchased by the hospital at a significantly reduced discount, he said.

The order was intended to free up regular hospital beds in the event they’re needed for infected patients.

Currently, the Temiskaming region has 12 positive tests for COVID-19. None are in hospital.

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The arrangement came about through social media exchange between Baker and Three H president Roy Dittmann, two old high school chums.

Dittmann inquired about how things were going at the hospital and the conversation evolved from the company donating N95 masks and the fitted respirators used in the paint booth to addressing a critical bed shortage.

“I said, well, we used to make beds,” said Dittmann. “I’m sure we can come up with something.”

Dittmann is the son of Heinz Dittmann, one of three cofounders who started the company in 1973, initially making European-style residential furniture.

Today, Three H is an award-winning designer and manufacturer of high-quality executive office furniture, work stations and accessories for large commercial and institutional clients across North America. More than half their production goes across the border.

For their pandemic-related preparations, the hospital repurposed a suite of offices for conversion into patient rooms for the elderly waiting to be admitted into extended care facilities.

With the hospital’s occupancy rate of alternate level of care patients exceeding 100 per cent, administration was pulling out all the stops to create and equip more patient space.

“He (Dittmann) said they could make 100,” said Baker. “We only needed 15 right now. They did it within a week.”

A nurse manager huddled with the company to work on a design to raise the beds up on casters, about five inches.

“They had to make some slight modifications to get the patient lift system underneath the bed to pick up those patients with mobility issues,” said Baker. “Next thing you know they’re sitting in place.”

The beds are made from Three H Furniture’s standard, easy-to-clean, laminate material.

With hospital mattresses in short supply due to long delivery lead times from medical suppliers, Baker said they opted for an easier solution with standard residential-type mattresses for the beds.

“We ended up buying our mattresses at The Brick.” Baker said.

Three H is one of a number of companies and organizations on their Facebook Community Champions Wall who have donated beds, medical equipment, gloves, gowns, surgical masks, a ventilator, mobile storage space, and made many offers and demonstrations of support.

“The community support has been amazing. We’re right in the middle of it and we don’t often think about what people can do for us.”

In assessing how 2020 will play out, Dittmann describes the Three H order book as looking “pretty grim.”

“We’ve got some larger projects, so right now we’re still in pretty good shape. We’ve had a pretty good year, so thankfully we can weather through a few months of this if we had to.

“It’s unfortunate. We’ve had a really strong year so far, and now it’s going to get clobbered." 

The Clover Valley Road factory is operating with a reduced staff – down to 45 from its normal 110 – with the workweek reduced to four days and four 10-hour shifts.

Many have been furloughed due to a low order volume and for precautionary health and safety reasons to provide sufficient spacing for employees between work stations.

While Three H Furniture regularly serves the administration areas of hospital clients across North America, they’ve not dabbled much in the patient care area.

Dittmann cautioned the company has no intention of realizing a new business line with specialty hospital beds. This supply arrangement is just a stop-gap measure to get the hospital through a tenuous time.

But even in the midst of crisis, there is opportunity.

Dittmann mentioned a growing local retail demand for thousands of protective plexiglass screens that they're out to fulfill.

And almost overnight, there’s been a dramatic reversal in North American office design trends.

The lower panel systems of the open office concept are now out with the demand coming from clients for more privacy at individual work stations.

“Staff here are busy with retrofits to make our existing furniture taller and to add more privacy screens. Looking forward, we’re in pretty good shape for picking off new business.”

Perhaps with the spread of viruses in mind, the typical fabric-wrapped panel systems are no longer in vogue.

“That’s gone. Everybody’s looking for hard surfaces now; they’re easier to clean. We’ve got really good products for that. That’s encouraging that we’ve got new business that we should be able to capitalize on.”