Volunteer Physicians Procure PPE, Build Largest Platform

Ingrid Hein

May 06, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

When pleas for protective equipment continued to go unheeded, a group of physicians decided to take matters into their own hands. They developed their own distribution channel, GetUsPPE.org, to match personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies with those in need.

Within days, they had gathered more than 100 volunteer scientists, programmers, engineers, and concerned citizens and rallied a dozen community organizations to put together a 501(c)(3) charitable organization to fund the project.

"This all happened in the span of a weekend, while we were working clinically taking care of COVID patients," Christopher Barsotti, MD, from the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News.

As of this week, GetUsPPE.org has received 7434 requests for help and has delivered 316,965 units to the San Francisco Bay area, 133,500 to Michigan, and 45,065 to Baltimore.

It was a tweet by Esther Choo, MD, from the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, that drew attention on Twitter under the hashtag #GetMePPE. Healthcare workers started sharing pictures of their equipment and stories of their struggles.

Megan Ranney, MD, cofounded GetUsPPE.org along with Choo. Ranney is an emergency physician in Rhode Island Hospital in Providence who, at the end of her shift in the emergency department, carefully removes her N95 mask and puts it in a paper bag, with her name written on it, so she can use it again.

It seems impossible that nobody planned for the fact that we were going to need to be protected; it really makes us feel like we are expendable.

"We're trying different methods to sterilize masks," Ranney explained. "We don't want to run out. It seems impossible that nobody planned for the fact that we were going to need to be protected; it really makes us feel like we are expendable," she said.

And masks can't be procured one at a time. The problem needs to be solved at a national level, so that masks and other equipment can be delivered equitably where need is the greatest, she pointed out.

Ranney and Choo — along with Shuhan He, MD, from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, with a team of medical professionals — are accepting donations.

In a recent post, Ranney asks the general public to "think about places where there might be PPE hidden in plain sight, such as laboratories, manufacturing facilities, artist studios, tattoo parlors, and nail salons."

Their team works to connect large-scale purchases from vetted manufacturers and facilitate PPE donations to those who need it most.

Broken Supply Chain; Bulk Buys Needed

A survey conducted in the first week of April by GetUsPPE.org showed that acute care hospitals make up only about 17% of the demand for PPE. The majority of the demand comes from independent clinics, skilled nursing facilities, home health aids, and assisted living centers.

These small buyers reportedly experience greater hurdles accessing equipment. "The supply chain is broken; there's no way to negotiate supply when you're the little guy," Ranney explained.

The organization has now teamed up with Project N95, a volunteer group that's been building a database to track where PPE is needed and where it can be sourced. Databases from the two organizations now make up the Demand Data Hub, which quickly became the largest, most centralized platform for PPE distribution in the United States.

The Demand Data Hub provides information on sourcing N95 respirators, surgical masks, protective goggles, gloves, face shields, coveralls, booties, and gowns. The equipment comes from multiple channels, including international manufacturers, domestic manufacturers, and volunteer mask makers.

As a single trusted destination for healthcare workers nationwide, Demand Data Hub provides a dynamic view of the state of the PPE crisis.

"By providing a centralized demand hub, we remove confusion among healthcare facilities and give providers a clear destination to register their PPE needs," Andrew Stroup, cofounder of Project N95, explained in a news release. This ensures that "healthcare providers can rely on a single, trusted platform to keep their information safe while providing up-to-date insights into their evolving PPE needs."

There has been a huge swell of community-level support and a lot of regional people helping to get protective equipment to urban areas, Ranney told Medscape Medical News. "The volunteer and donor community has been incredible," she said. But in rural areas, it is challenging.

Still, there's a massive shortage, and healthcare workers have to soldier on despite their fear of getting sick.

"Initially I had very little fear," Ranney acknowledged. "I'm in my 40s and healthy." But with increasing numbers of young critically ill patients and healthcare workers being affected, "our level of concern is certainly going up."

"I have multiple friends, ER doctors, who have been hospitalized, and they're in the same age bracket as me," she reported.

Mom, make sure you protect yourself.

On her way out the hospital door, Ranney puts everything that accompanied her into the emergency department into a plastic bag. She wipes down her keys, hospital bag, and phone. When she arrives home, she showers, washes her hair, and does not "touch anything or talk to anyone until I'm fully decontaminated."

Ranney's clothes go in the washing machine on high heat, and her shoes stay outside, where everyone — her husband and two children — "knows not to go near them," she explained.

Ranney doesn't candy-coat the risks when talking to her children. "My kids do better with more information; I try to share as much as I can," she said.

The mobilization work she is doing with GetUsPPE.org — helping other healthcare workers, supporting her community — is empowering, not only for her, but also her family. "It gives my kids a sense of calmness and control. They know I'm trying to do something about it, not just accepting it. They know we are working hard to change the situation," she said.

But it's tough knowing that the family is worried about her. "Mom, make sure you protect yourself," Ranney's eldest daughter tells her as she heads to work.

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