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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

May 12, 2021

Monmouth Medical Center Nurse Invents IsoPouch, Wins Johnson & Johnson Grant

By Lauren Lavelle

When Monmouth Medical Center pediatric nurse Kathleen Malouf received the news she would be temporarily moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) to help patients fight their battles against COVID-19, she wasn’t sure what to think.

“It’s a completely different world out there,” she said. “I love pediatrics; it’s my life, and now, I was dealing with critically ill adults. It was a big shock.”

Malouf, a Middletown resident, was trained and transferred to the ICU where she worked as a nurse extender alongside seasoned ICU nurses. While getting acclimated with her new surroundings and procedures, Malouf took notice of a small yet significant difference between the way pediatric and ICU nurses function. 

“As a nurse, I’m always using my pockets, and I was not able to do that with the isolation gowns [worn in the ICU],” Malouf said. “In the isolation rooms, we were not allowed to bring in any extra supplies because they’re only good for one patient, so we were challenged with having to carry everything we needed into the room at one time.”

The supplies could be anything from bedding material, to feeding supplies, to medication and to wound care, all being juggled by nurses at one time. 

“I knew there had to be a solution,” she said. 

Enter the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge, a contest dedicated to fostering nurse-led innovation by allowing nurses to submit their ideas and inventions for a chance to win grant funding and mentorship from Johnson & Johnson.

When Malouf heard about the contest, she knew it was the boost she needed to put an end to her problem. 

“I knew not having the pockets was a big challenge, but I wasn’t in the mind space at the time to actually think of a solution,” Malouf said. “When I heard about the challenge, that was the first thing I thought of.”

Malouf got to work and created a prototype for a clear, plastic pouch that attaches to the isolation gown and can be thrown out after use. She named the product the IsoPouch, short for isolation pouch. 

“The beauty of it is, it’s meant to be thrown out, so you use it and then you just throw it out with your isolation gown,” she said. “It’s clear plastic so you can see what’s inside which is helpful because you’re wearing your gloves so you’re not as dexterous as you would normally be. Also, if you have on your face shield, it’s hard to see, so [I made] something clear so you can get your hands on exactly what you need at the time.”

The application process – which involved creating the prototype, submitting a video and headshot, and detailing exactly how the grant money would be used if she were to win – was tough for Malouf who described the process as “a blur” because she thought her chances of winning the contest were slim. 

Malouf was surprised to discover though that weeks later, out of more than 230 applicants from 35 different countries, she won the challenge and took home an undisclosed amount of grant money, mentorship, and virtual residency at the Johnson & Johnson labs in New York City. 

“I was completely surprised,” Malouf said. “I struggled just to submit my application, never dreaming I’d actually be an awardee at the end of it.”

Now, with the help of her mentor, Malouf is tasked with figuring out the next steps for the IsoPouch. When asked what she sees in the future for the product, Malouf predicted success in not only hospitals, but other industries as well. 

“Aerospace, the tech industry, dietary, there’s a lot of places that utilize the isolation gowns as well,” she said. “This is a solution that we need now, so hopefully I can get it going.”

Malouf’s coworkers at Monmouth Medical are also eager to use the IsoPouch. Ashlee Poskonka, a fellow pediatric nurse, voiced her appreciation for Malouf and her excitement for the future of the invention. 

“I am proud to work alongside [Malouf],” Poskonka said. “I think the IsoPouch is going to be extremely helpful when caring for not only COVID-19 patients but all isolation patients.”

All in all, Malouf hopes her win serves as inspiration for nurses everywhere. 

“I feel like this is a win for the staff nurses in general because a lot of the competitions are these high level, PhD-holding workers,” she said. “I hope to inspire. You can do things and make a difference for the patients and your coworkers.”