From West to East: Tzu Chi USA and TCMF Aid First Responders Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

TIMA  |  April 14, 2020
Healthcare workers at Clinica Medica Hispana Medical Corporation were immensely grateful to receive 100 surgical masks from Tzu Chi.

Provided by Tzu Chi USA and Tzu Chi Medical Foundation
Translated and Edited by Monique Kuo

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world hard, and as global citizens, Tzu Chi swiftly mobilized its resources and volunteers to help. By initiating its “Flatten the Curve” campaign, Tzu Chi USA has provided multiple hospitals and medical centers with donations of essential personal protective equipment (PPE). Together, Tzu Chi USA and Tzu Chi Medical Foundation (TCMF) have also been working diligently to raise donations and procure the required PPE — including hand sanitizers, surgical masks, N95 respirator masks, coveralls, isolation gowns, and goggles — for first responders such as frontline health workers, police officers, firefighters, and more individuals who are most in need.

Responding to the Need for Aid in Asia

Given the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in China and considering the great need within the hospitals, Tzu Chi Medical Foundation worked with steadfast determination to make three shipments of PPE separately on February 7th, February 14th, and February 25th, with a total donation of 9,600 surgical masks, 1,560 N95 respirators, 521 pairs of safety goggles, and 90 standard precaution kits for frontline workers at the hospitals impacted most by the outbreak in China.

During preparation for the shipments, there were many challenges, said Dr. Keh, CEO of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation:

“First, it has been very difficult to procure personal protection equipment, given the speedy progression of the outbreak. If it were not for the tremendous support provided by many medical professionals and supporters who have tried every possible way to secure all sorts of PPE, we wouldn’t have been able to make it. The tricky and challenging part was that, even though the orders were made, we were on alert for the unexpected — for instance, order cancellations, order delays, or reductions in the amounts of items in the orders.

An additional hurdle faced, explained Dr. Keh, was that of transportation. “Many flights were canceled, and we could only adjust the shipping destinations accordingly. Luckily, particularly at a critical time like this, Tzu Chi’s worldwide operation came in handy, and our local volunteers and staff were standing by to work things out to ensure the medical supplies could reach the hospitals in need of them most.”

Hats off to Our First Responders

While the outbreak in Asia appeared to be slowing down, it had only just begun to take a heavy toll on the rest of the world, unfortunately, including in the USA. Three hospitals in Seattle were the first ones to seek support from TCMF for surgical masks and goggles, followed by CAIPA (Coalition of Asian-American IPA) in New York and Huntington Hospital in Los Angeles. Immediately, TCMF rolled up its sleeves to gather resources, and delivered a total of 1,560 N95 masks and 400 safety goggles on March 19th, 2020. 

Concerned for the pressing needs of first responders, on March 25, 2020, a veteran volunteer, Mary Keh, and TCMF staff member, Albert Huang, hand-delivered the gathered medical supplies to Keck Medicine of USC, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, and the LAPD. 

Tzu Chi volunteers donated much-needed masks to the LAPD to help ensure first responders can stay protected from the spread of COVID-19 while serving the community, and flatten the curve.

Susan Mickles represented the LAPD in receiving the donation of surgical masks and expressed her gratitude to TCMF. “There are over 10 police officers who tested positive for the coronavirus,” she said. “The LAPD still needs to deliver our services around the clock despite a shortage of manpower. During this challenging time, all police officers’ holidays are canceled and even desk officers are now required to go out on patrol. During the execution of their duties, police officers serve people from all walks of life, which means we can’t refuse to serve people who are or might be affected by COVID-19. Hence, we really need PPE to help do our job.” 

John McMahon, Deputy Chief from the Los Angeles Police Department also recorded a heartfelt message of thanks for the support received.

A total of 240 N95 respirator masks were donated to Keck Medicine of USC, 240 N95 respirator masks and 1,200 surgical masks to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, and 2,000 surgical masks were given to LAPD. On March 24th, 704 surgical masks and 40 N95 respirator masks were donated to Keck Medicine of USC from local volunteers with Tzu Chi’s Northridge who are originally from China. They were touched by TCMF’s sincerity in their initiatives and decided to become volunteers with TCMF.

“It is extremely difficult to procure any PPE now, including surgical masks,” said a veteran Tzu Chi volunteer, Mary Keh. “Lots of false information about PPE is around on the web, and some of the advertised masks don’t even meet medical standards. All involved volunteers have been contacting FDA qualified manufacturers located in different states or countries. Everyone has been working tirelessly for the procurement of PPE”.

Care for Tzu Chi Volunteers

When the outbreak in Washington State was first identified, Dr. Keh reached out to Tzu Chi’s Seattle branch and advised them on which means of support TCMF could provide, including PPE. Immediately, Tzu Chi’s Seattle branch contacted several hospitals, who said their medical supplies were still sufficient at that time. It was not long after, however, that news had emerged about a shortage of supplies. Volunteers quickly contacted Evergreen Hospital, which was in desperate need of PPE, and on March 20th, a total of 360 N95 respirator masks and 200 safety goggles were delivered by local Tzu Chi volunteers to Evergreen Hospital.

On March 27th, Tzu Chi volunteers in Chicago who were in great need of supplies to continue their work in the communities they serve received 500 surgical masks as well as a care package containing apples, a peace charm, and homemade Taiwanese sticky rice.

Race Against Time

To better respond to the needs of communities and ensure the delivery of the resources, TCMF designed a PPE appeal and request form, allowing those in need to file for help and spread the word. 

Meanwhile, TCMF has also received inquiries regarding how people can contribute their support, and another form was also created to record such kindness and support to be delivered promptly.

Tzu Chi volunteers donated much-needed masks to the LAPD to help ensure first responders can stay protected from the spread of COVID-19 while serving the community, and flatten the curve.

The request form has not only helped expedite the distribution process but has also allowed TCMF the opportunity to speak with the recipients of PPE donations to further understand their needs, as well as introduce the mission of Tzu Chi and TCMF, and the spirit of the bamboo bank. A total of 10 donations were made on March 31st, 2020:

  1. 100 N95 respirator masks and 500 surgical masks were provided for Dr. Li-hin Hsu of Kaiser Hollywood Hospital. 

  2. Through the referral of Tzu Chi’s Northridge volunteers, a total of 674 N95 respirator masks, 1,000 surgical masks, and three boxes of surgical gloves were donated to Barlow Respiratory Hospital. 

  3. 305 respirator masks, 1,400 surgical masks, 14 pairs of goggles, four boxes of gloves and one box of Clorox disinfecting wipes were donated to Beverly Hospital.  

  4. 500 surgical masks were donated to Alhambra Hospital. 

  5. 20 N95 respirator masks and 10 surgical masks were donated to a Tzu Chi volunteer who is a healthcare worker in North California. 

  6. 100 surgical masks and 60 N95 respirator masks were provided for Dr. Shawn Yu of Torrance Memorial Medical Center. 

  7. 100 N95 respirator masks and two pairs of goggles were provided for Dr. Angie Liang of Kaiser, Los Angeles. 

  8. 1,500 surgical masks, 25 isolation gowns, 20 lab coats, and 24 surgical coats, were donated to Garfield Medical Center. 

  9. 100 surgical masks were donated to Clinica Medica Hispana Medical Corporation. 

  10. 50 surgical masks and one box of surgical gloves were donated to Men Educating Men About Health.

Donations to Alhambra Hospital
Beverly Hospital receiving PPE donations from Tzu Chi Volunteers

Recipients of the donations expressed their sincere thanks for the care and support during such a crucial time.

Many more initiatives are ongoing, and all volunteers and staff are working around the clock to help flatten the curve. TCMF’s CEO, Dr. Keh, expressed that “Tzu Chi volunteers and staff will always lead from the front until the end. We will continue our every possible effort until the pandemic ends.” 

Flatten the curve with us — your donation will help provide the essential personal protective equipment those on the frontlines require to keep their communities and themselves safe.