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Alumni In China Lead Effort To Procure PPE For Medical Workers In New York

Apr 9, 2020
Originally published on April 10, 2020 2:33 pm

Thomas E. Lo is an anesthesiologist who works at Montefiore Nyack Hospital in New York. Since the coronavirus outbreak, his job has gotten dangerous.

"The exposure risk as an anesthesiologist is extremely high because when we intubate a patient, we are literally less than a foot away from the patient, who is in distress, and we're right by their airway, which is where the virus is," Lo tells All Things Considered.

And that exposure risk is made worse by widespread shortages of crucial personal protective equipment, or PPE, like masks, gowns and gloves.

Lo is trying to help fix that. He is also president of Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons Alumni Association. It has chapters in many places, including China.

Alumni there saw what was happening in New York and wanted to do something to help.

So, several weeks ago, Lo reached out to medical providers in New York City and asked what they needed.

"Within 24 hours, I had dozens of emails," he says. They were in desperate need of PPE like N95 masks, gowns and face shields.

He conveyed these needs to members of the alumni association. Since then, more than $1 million in cash and equipment has poured in from more than 200 donors across Columbia's alumni network.

At least 11,000 N95 masks have already been purchased. And supplies are already showing up at some of New York's hardest hit hospitals, such as Elmhurst in Queens.

To Lo, the most inspiring thing about the effort is seeing the outpouring of support from Columbia's and other alumni associations in China — especially at a time when fear over the virus has led to increased prejudice.

"There has been a lot of bad sentiment towards Asian Americans, or the Chinese, which is completely misinformation. And here we have a grassroots effort led by the Columbia alumni association in China, pulling together their resources to get donations to purchase PPE to send to the United States."

Correction: 4/09/20

A previous summary of this story incorrectly stated that Columbia University's medical school alumni association raised more than Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org. million for PPE for medical providers in New York. In fact, the money was raised by alumni from across the university.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The coronavirus pandemic has changed lives in profound ways, especially for health care workers. Dr. Thomas E. Lo is an anesthesiologist who works at Montefiore Nyack Hospital in New York. Since the outbreak, his job has gotten much more dangerous.

THOMAS E LO: The exposure risk as a anesthesiologist is extremely high because when we intubate a patient, we are literally less than a foot away from the patient who is in distress. And we're right by their airway, which is where the virus is.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Exposure to the coronavirus has become a big problem for health care workers - a problem made worse by a lack of personal protective equipment or PPE. Dr. Lo is trying to fix that. He's also president of the Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons Alumni Association. And they have chapters in many places, including China.

LO: The alumni in China saw what was happening in New York and saw that many of the physicians and health care workers did not have adequate PPE or that there was a shortage of PPE.

KELLY: So Dr. Lo reached out to the doctors and physicians working in New York City and asked a simple question - what do you need to stay safe?

LO: And within 24 hours, I had dozens of emails. And I actually called them and spoke to them. And many of them were in desperate need of PPE, which included N95 masks, gowns, face shields.

SHAPIRO: Money poured in from more than 200 donors.

LO: In the course of several weeks, over $1 million was raised either in cash or donations in kind to help purchase PPE and send them over to health care workers - physicians, nurses, any type of health care worker in the New York area.

KELLY: Those contributions are already materializing, even in some of New York's hardest-hit hospitals.

LO: Elmhurst Hospital in Queens was, you know, in desperate need. We sent many PPE packages over there.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Lo says the most inspiring thing about the effort is seeing the outpouring of support from alumni associations in China, especially at a time when fear over the virus has led to increased prejudice.

LO: There has been a lot of bad sentiment towards Asian Americans or the Chinese, which is completely misinformation. And here we have a grassroots effort led by the Columbia Alumni Association in China pooling together their resources to get donations to purchase PPE to send to the United States.

KELLY: Anesthesiologist Thomas E. Lo - he's been working to bring PPE to health care workers in New York.

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