Rachel Smith, BSN, RN, director of nursing at Lincoln Community Hospital in Hugo, Colo., found that to be true for nurses and others working at the front lines for U.S. rural hospitals. But Heart4Heroes stepped in to help.
“It was a challenge when COVID-19 hit to obtain any kind of PPE, even as a regular purchaser of such supplies,” Smith said. “There was such a high demand that there were outages and shortages everywhere. There were a couple of days that we didn’t even know if we were going to have gloves to be able to provide our regular standard of care.”
Heart4Heroes, an organization launched by a corporate executive who wanted to do some good during the crisis, came to the rescue. The organization made sure Lincoln Community Hospital staff received a 90-day supply of PPE for free during the first few months of the pandemic.
The donated PPE allowed the rural hospital’s staff to stay safe while providing care to an influx of patients, including patients with COVID-19, according to Smith.
“It would be very difficult for us to obtain that on our own,” Smith said. “By getting the donation we’re definitely more sustainable and viable in providing continued patient care.”
While death rates might have declined — for a time — in major cities and not exhibit a fluctuation in cases, they’re not going down in rural areas of the U.S., according to an NPR.or article.
Many hospitals in rural America were already stretched thin resource-wise before the pandemic. Even a small surge in patients is enough to overwhelm these facilities, the newspaper reported.
“Rural communities and hospitals are at the end of the supply line,” said Benjamin Anderson, vice president of Rural Health and Hospitals at Colorado Hospital Association.
These hospitals often don’t have the buying power or clout needed to get priority PPE, according to Anderson.
Instead of sitting on the sidelines, Anderson and his childhood friend David Petrillo, president and owner of the skincare company Perfect Image, started Heart4Heroes to raise funds and awareness for small and rural hospitals struggling to get lifesaving PPE supplies.
Essentially, Heart4Heroes is connecting the dots via a media campaign and partnering with existing organizations that can help get the job done. Partners include Project C.U.R.E., National Rural Health Association, Colorado Hospital Association, Angel Flight West, and the Civil Air Patrol.
Project C.U.R.E., a humanitarian relief organization headquartered in Denver, Colo., delivers medical supplies and equipment worldwide to hospitals in vulnerable areas and serving vulnerable populations.
“Our basic mission is to provide medical supplies and equipment to doctors and nurses in developing countries,” said Project C.U.R.E. President and CEO Douglas Jackson, PhD, JD. “We’ve worked in 138 countries around the world. In a good month, we’ll send 20 semitruck trailers packed with everything from catheters to CT scans into places where people work 12 hours a day and make $1.”
But in mid-March, Jackson said, Project C.U.R.E. started getting calls from some of its more than 30,000 volunteers that people in the U.S. couldn’t access PPE and other equipment needed during the pandemic.
“We went through our warehouses and started providing PPE to all these front-line workers,” Jackson said. “We put all our ventilators back out into the field. In some cases, we were giving things back to the hospitals that had donated things to us.”
The partnership with Heart4Heroes is helping Project C.U.R.E. raise more money and donate and deliver more PPE to healthcare workers in underserved America.
Heart4Heroes connected next with Angel Flight networks across the U.S., which are networks of volunteer pilots that ship PPE to rural or remote communities at no cost. The pilots donate their planes, gas, and time, according to Anderson.
“The Colorado Civil Air Patrol has agreed to do the same, making similar deliveries,” he said.
Heart4Heroes has helped fund the delivery of 2,280 boxes on 90 shipments of PPE to 65 healthcare and first responder facilities in Colorado, since early March. The team also has worked with Project C.U.R.E. to deliver millions of PPE items to healthcare workers across the U.S. Project C.U.R.E., with support from Heart4Heroes, has delivered over 2.1 million pieces of PPE, including masks, gloves, and more, since early March.
On top of that, they hope to raise $1 million to help rural hospitals and other healthcare facilities nationwide, said Petrillo.
“Some of these flights are going as much as once a week to these rural communities bringing the PPE,” Anderson said. “Project C.U.R.E. has seven warehouses across the U.S., so as they become aware of needs they can respond very quickly. I’ve made same-day requests to them before.”
Nurses in rural and underserved areas who need PPE can go to Heart4Heroes.org and request it, or they can contact Project C.U.R.E. and request supplies and reference Heart4Heroes. Rather than ask for payment, Heart4Heroes requests that hospital staff use their voices and social media platforms to spread the word.
“What we’re encouraging hospitals to do when they receive PPE is have their nurses and healthcare workers put a piece of that PPE on, take a picture and post it on their social media page saying ‘Thanks #Heart4Heroes for the PPE. Keep it coming,’” Petrillo said.
Helping to spread the word fuels the model by increasing shares, traffic, awareness, and donations of money or PPE.
“That’s really the focus right now,” Petrillo said. “It’s trying to get more awareness, so we can raise more donations. That way we can keep supplying the hospitals in need.”
Donors include individuals and corporations. The money raised goes to Project C.U.R.E. and is earmarked so they use the organization’s buying power to purchase PPE specifically for healthcare workers in rural and underserved areas.
“We don’t anticipate this to be a short-term issue,” Anderson said. “We think it will be a long-term issue, so we have to be able to continue to hack the supply line to make sure that rural nurses get what they need.”