Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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LANL Scholars make masks to help battle COVID-19

Santa Fe nursing students found nonprofit effort that has 500 volunteers
May 27, 2020
Robin Carrillo Ortiz (left) and Erin Price.

Robin Carrillo Ortiz (left) and Erin Price.

After watching a news program about the need for personnel protection equipment, I thought that I could do something to help.- Robin Carrillo Ortiz

Robin Carrillo Ortiz and& Erin Price have always wanted to work in the medical field, but life has a way of getting in the way of certain goals. But with the support of the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund both are now on track, and are also organizing a volunteer program to make facemasks for frontline healthcare workers.

“My dad was in the Air Force, so I grew up a military brat — I had lived in 13 states by the time I turned 15,” says Robin. “I graduated from high school in Germany from a Department of Defense school. Since graduation, I’ve done some volunteer work in healthcare, and a couple of years ago I decided to reinvent myself and become a nurse.”

“I grew up in California, but more recently I’ve spent time in Hawaii and Alabama,” says Erin. “As a young adult, I spent about 10 years working in the healthcare system and as a patient advocate. When I moved to Santa Fe, things finally came together and I decided to get my nursing degree.”

A fruitful friendship

Robin and Erin met while taking prerequisite courses for the dual-degree nursing program through Santa Fe Community College and the University of New Mexico. It was during this time they became fast friends. Both women applied to become LANL Scholars and received Career Pathway Scholarships funded by Laboratory employee contributions through the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund. The scholarships are administered by the LANL Foundation and geared primarily for individuals seeking two-year degrees. They pay up to $1,500 per academic year and are renewable for a total of two years.

During the middle of March 2020, Robin and Erin cofounded Operation Bandana New Mexico, a volunteer organization dedicated to creating facemasks for frontline healthcare workers in New Mexico.

“After watching a news program about the need for personnel protection equipment, I thought that I could do something to help,” Robin explains. “After my daughter and I made a few masks, it was clear that we needed to make more than a few handfuls, so I reached out to Erin, who is a master organizer, and what started off as a several-person effort soon grew to encompass volunteers from throughout New Mexico.”

“We’ve put together an organization that is quite a bit bigger than either of us ever imagined,” adds Erin. “We have about 500 volunteers from Albuquerque, Artesia, Edgewood, Española, Gallup, Lamy, Las Cruces, Los Alamos, White Rock, Rio Rancho, San Felipe Pueblo, Santa Fe, Santo Domingo Pueblo — the list goes on. We continue to grow every day.”

“It’s more than assembling masks,” says Robin. “We have people donating supplies, cutting and washing fabric, picking up supplies, delivering masks and handling other logistics. To date, we’ve delivered masks to hospitals and other healthcare centers all over the state.”

Forging future paths

Manufacturing masks for the healthcare community has inspired both women to expand their horizons even further.

“I also plan to get an associate degree in some kind of engineering,” explains Erin. “With a degree in nursing and in engineering, I can help solve a lot of simple problems in healthcare, from addressing physical issues for disabled people to streamlining processes at hospitals.”

“I wanted to get into nursing so I could help people in crisis,” adds Robin. “My life experience has shown me that there are many ways to help — from being a midwife to working on a reservation and so much in between. The next five years of my life will be very interesting indeed.”