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Updated: June 28, 2023

With sales of COVID tests waning, Puritan Medical Products says it will cut 272 jobs

Puritan Medical Supplies Puritan Medical Supplies said it will cut 272 jobs, including roughly 220 in Maine, and close its Tennessee factory (pictured here).

Puritan Medical Products — a Piscataquis County-based, family-owned business that took on a global profile in 2020 when the federal government picked it to produce millions of swabs to be used in COVID tests — said Wednesday it will cut 272 jobs, or more than a third of its workforce. 

About 214 employees in Pittsfield who have been on furlough since March 20 are being informed today that their jobs will be eliminated. Another 50 employees at Puritan's Orlinda, Tenn., operation, which opened in 2021, will be let go and the factory will be closed. The balance of employees let go will be administrative staff. 

From a peak of 1,270 employees at the height of pandemic swab production — when it became North America's largest manufacturer of COVID testing swabs — after the layoffs the company will have 400 employees, split between two factories in Pittsfield and one in Guilford. 

Puritan Medical Products
Robert L. Shultz, president and CFO of Puritan Medical Products

Robert L. Shultz, Puritan's president and chief financial officer, told Mainebiz that five of Puritan's seven-largest customers have already undergone restructuring. Sales of test kits — with Puritan's swabs as part of the package — have fallen off dramatically since the World Health Organization declared an end to the pandemic emergency effective May 5.

Earlier this spring, Abbott Rapid Diagnostics, which uses Puritan swabs in its COVID test kits, filed separate WARN notices with the Maine Department of Labor saying it was cutting 418 jobs at its site in Westbrook. 

"These actions are the latest — and hopefully last — measures taken in response to the post-COVID downturn," Puritan said in a news release. "With lower demand for swabs and other products — compared to the COVID driven peaks — Puritan has implemented these measures aimed at strengthening its operational and financial base to ensure it is best positioned to succeed given the new market realities."

Puritan said throughout the downsizing process it has made it "a mission to show compassion and sympathy for its hardworking employees — and the families they support."

Employees that were furloughed in March continued to receive medical insurance. Puritan has also set up an employee assistance center to help workers apply for unemployment. 

How Puritan became the center of swab production

Puritan, which was founded in 1919, had long been a leader in swab production, building a catalog of 65 types of swabs used for some 1,200 varieties of tests.

At the height of the pandemic, Puritan was tapped to be the primary supplier of swabs used in COVID test kits. 

In August 2020, Puritan received $51.2 million in CARES Act funding to increase production of flock-tip testing swabs, building on an earlier grant of $75.5 million. In March 2021, the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services awarded up to $146.77 million to the Guilford company.

File photo / Puritan Medical Products
Puritan Medical Products at the height of production.

Puritan worked quickly to build, outfit and hire for three additional factories — two in Pittsfield, Somerset County, and one in Orlinda, Tenn.

Puritan, which is privately held, does not disclose its revenue, but Shultz said revenue grew by 175% during the pandemic, with the factories running full tilt producing millions of swabs.

Inc. magazine named Puritan "Company of the Year" in 2020, and Mainebiz honored then-president Scott Wellman as Business Leader of the Year. 

The company was considered a model for how a manufacturer could respond in a global health crisis

"People really stepped up," Shultz told Mainebiz. "There was no remote work here. [Production was] seven days a week, with long hours. It speaks to the people who worked here."

The Tennessee plant, which represented an investment of $220 million, was expected to create 220 jobs over five years, Puritan said when it opened in 2022 in a ceremony with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. The 350,000-square-foot plant was expected to produce 200 million swabs a month. 

Waning sales

But even before the pandemic emergency was officially declared over, sales started to plummet.

"The impact has been swift and significant," Shultz said. 

Puritan's customers include Abbott, Quidel, Thermo Fisher, Roche and Cue Health. Most have had their own restructurings.

Because Puritan was bestowed with special status under the Defense Production Act to be a designated swab producer, it shifted all production to swabs for the COVID tests.

Shultz said the plan all along was to transition back to swabs and other products that could be used for test kits for, say, the flu, RSVs or sexually transmitted diseases. Puritan also makes "media" and vials used in self-diagnosis kits. Prior to the pandemic, its core business had been genetic tests, forensic tests and products for industrial test kits. 

So 2023 was intended to be "a bridge year," as Puritan made the transition back to other products, Shultz said. 

Going forward, the company will focus on the transition to other products. 


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