Pandemic leads to partnership to deliver PPE by drone

USA Drone Port Director Bart Massey.

HAZARD, Ky. — The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention has been put to the test during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a partnership to use technology to deliver needed personal protective equipment to remote areas of Appalachia.

The Jericho Project is a partnership between the University of Kentucky Center for Appalachian Research in Environmental Sciences (UK-CARES), the UK Center for Excellence in Rural Health, Kentucky Homeplace, and the USA Drone Port located on the Knott and Perry county line.

It all began with an idea of using drones to deliver needed medicine and medical supplies to rural, at-risk patients. But at first, USA Drone Port Director Bart Massey found nothing but roadblocks.

“We got back to Kentucky and asked ourselves how can we do something to help people at risk — to get packages to people that have diabetes and need insulin or need batteries for their wheelchairs?” Massey said. “We contacted the FAA, we talked to the National Guard. Nobody really had an answer for us legally how to do it, the methodology, or anything.” 

That’s when a suggestion to check with the UK-CARES resulted in a research study to see if the idea was feasible — and at the same time get PPE out to people who need it.

“We heard loud and clear that some of the people living in the region weren’t really taking COVID as seriously as they should,” UK-CARES Director and College of Nursing Professor Ellen Hahn said. ” They didn’t have access to personal protective equipment like masks and gloves and disinfectant wipes. Knowing that there are a lot of remote regions in that part of the state, we started putting two-and-two together.”

The partners are now eager to document their successes as a template for using consumer-level drones and supplies from a local hardware store to move supplies not only during a pandemic, but also at times of natural disaster, as well as a cost-effective way to conduct air, water and soil testing for environmental studies.

“You hear of all these things that happen in the big cities, and you don’t necessarily hear about inventions and innovative things in rural Kentucky,” said Fran Feltner, director of the UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health in Hazard. “If we can be on the forefront of innovation, I think it’s just an awesome goal to reach between all of us.”