American Innovation in Mental Health Care
The following is guest post, contributed by Katherine Magee, Amerisewn Marketing & Product Development Associate
If you are reading this blog, you are probably already familiar with the Ukeru® story. What you may be less familiar with is the role that Amerisewn, as an industry leader in manufacturing personal protective gear for the military, had in that story. It was a partnership between the two organizations that led to the innovative, dual-protective blocking pads that are now used by Ukeru certified professionals in more than 130 organizations in 27 states.
An important element of Ukeru training is the physical techniques that minimize the need for restraints and seclusion. Key to that: protective equipment and soft, cushioned blocking materials that keep both the caregiver and client safe. Yet, these tools did not exist when Ukeru began its journey back in 2004.
In the beginning, the Ukeru team used everything from throw pillows to couch cushions and bean bags to protect staff and clients in times of crisis. But with limited durability and lack of handles to provide grip, they were not the best option. Martial arts blocking pads solved the durability issue, but they often came in threatening colors with aggressive logos on their fronts, running counter to Ukeru’s mission and message. They were also designed for targeted training purposes, not real-life, unpredictable strikes.
“When we told our CEO that there was nothing on the market that did what we needed it to do, he simply said ‘well, design it yourself.’ So we did,” said Ukeru Systems President, Kim Sanders.
The Grafton team worked with Amerisewn, based in Rhode Island, to develop the proprietary pads. It took John Caito III, founder of Amerisewn, over 200 hours to develop the perfect tool for Ukeru. Together, the two organizations developed, patented, and custom-made cushioned blocking tools that keep both professionals and those in their care safe and comfortable.
In the beginning, John was used to making products for military uses.
“If you are being attacked, he knew how to how to keep your safe. But with military gear, you don’t really consider how to also keep the person displaying the aggression safe,” explained Sanders. “That’s critical for Ukeru. We can’t hold up something super rough and hard and have the person who is vulnerable and with disabilities, who’s hitting us, get h
urt. It’s a different dimension when you have to keep everybody safe.”
With Caito’s skills in developing effective solutions for personal protection, his vast knowledge in materials used for defense and protective equipment, and his company’s impeccable product construction, Amerisewn created the first Ukeru blocking pad.
Throughout design and development, Caito and Sanders maintained a back-and-forth dialogue: Caito sent prototypes, and Sanders’ team evaluated and tested them.
“I spend a lot of time analyzing things that we make, as we are designing them,” says Caito. “You can’t predict what’s going to happen in a behavioral health organization like Grafton, but you have to think deeply about it and imagine every scenario that could potentially bring harm to healthcare workers and patients alike.”
The direct-care staff at Ukeru provided very specific feedback, such as “I wish it were this wide and this long,” or “instead of two handles, we really need four.” This continuous collaboration helped to refine the final product.
Since then, Amerisewn and Grafton have gone on to create six additional Ukeru pads, each addressing a different situation, patient type, and environment. Today, Ukeru is paving the way for a trauma-informed, restraint-free approach to caring for individuals in crisis. It would not be in that position without the partnership and support of Amerisewn.
“We are proud to be part of the solution,” said Caito. “Working with Ukeru Systems has not only widened our product portfolio, but has also created a sense of corporate pride knowing that we are manufacturing products that ultimately make this world a better place.”