Larner Responds: Tapping the Community to Protect Frontline Workers

April 10, 2020 by Sarah Zobel

At businesses and locations around Vermont that are currently closed or operating at a reduced level, personal protective equipment (PPE) is sitting unused. It’s in short supply around the country in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Vivek Chittineni, M.D., along with three University of Vermont (UVM) Larner College of Medicine students, are spearheading a drive to stockpile PPE, some of it for UVM Medical Center (UVMMC).

Madeline Fritz, UVM Larner College of Medicine Class of 2022, accepts a box of 20,000 gloves from Perfect Nails in Essex.

The "COVID-19: The Larner Community Responds" series highlights stories about Larner College of Medicine students, faculty and staff who are answering the call for help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In dental offices, nonmedical labs, secondary schools, meat-packing plants, medical spas, nail salons, and other businesses and locations around Vermont that are currently closed or operating at a reduced level, personal protective equipment (PPE) is sitting unused. It’s in short supply around the country in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Vivek Chittineni, M.D., along with three University of Vermont (UVM) Larner College of Medicine students, are spearheading a drive to stockpile PPE, some of it for UVM Medical Center (UVMMC).

“Obviously, there’s a massive shortage of PPE throughout a lot of communities. Our hospital network is actually pretty well off, but it seemed like with what’s going on at Birchwood and other facilities in the state, there could be a need here,” says Chittineni, an anesthesiology resident at UVMMC. Birchwood Terrace is the second Burlington nursing home to-date to face a COVID-19 outbreak.

To build up a store of PPE, a group has formed which includes Chittineni, Amy Lynn Teleron, M.D., assistant professor of medicine; McKenna Lee, senior project manager for supply chain services at UVVMC, and three medical students: Madeline Fritz ’22, Micaila Baroffio ’23, and Carolyn Geraci ’22. 

“Seeing how dire situations have already gotten in places like New York City and Seattle, places where doctors and nurses are working without the appropriate PPE, we had an opportunity to get ahead of a possible shortage here,” says Geraci. “We're trying to provide a stop-gap if it does become a problem in Vermont.” 

Members have grouped businesses statewide by type and each person is responsible for a handful of categories. With the help of Google Maps, they are then able to find, for example, just about every automotive shop in the state, and can get in touch to see if shop owners have any PPE to donate. Some are also adding a personal connection. Before the effort got underway, Baroffio, a Northfield native, leveraged familiarity with businesses in her hometown and elsewhere to come up with roughly 100 places to source donations. With supplies already donated from Lowe’s and Home Depot, 20,000 gloves from Perfect Nails in Essex, and a donation of 300 boxes of gloves from different labs at the Larner College of Medicine, the team is now expanding their scope. They’re now planning to reach out to nearly 400 local businesses.

“We’re also going to [reach out to] the general Vermont community. So, if anyone has an N95 mask sitting in their basement that they haven't used, they can bring it in,” says Geraci. 

The team is accepting:
    •    N95 masks 
    •    Face masks 
    •    CAPRs and other respirators 
    •    Gloves 
    •    Face shields 
    •    Safety goggles 
    •    Gowns 
    •    Coveralls/bunny suits 

They’re also collecting bleach, peroxide, hand sanitizer, and cleaning wipes. Donated items will remain in storage at the Larner College of Medicine for a week to decontaminate. The medical center can use N95 respirators, gowns, bouffants, and cloth masks that are manufactured or sewn using guidelines on the CDC’s website, and will collaborate with the College and the State of Vermont to redistribute the remainder.  

Donations are being accepted Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Given building loading dock. Medical students are invited to sign up to staff the drop-off site for one or more shifts. The task force is also accepting donations by mail. Please email vtcovid19@gmail.com about the donation and then send to:   PPE INITIATIVE | Given C108 | 89 Beaumont Ave | Burlington, VT 05405
 
Geraci, Baroffio, and Fritz agree that getting involved has allowed them to feel useful while minimizing their sense of helplessness and frustration at not yet having enough medical training to assist on the front lines. They’ve signed on to this effort indefinitely, with no known end date. 

“Hopefully, we won't even need most of these. Hopefully, we're going to flatten the curve,” says Baroffio.

For details on how to donate or volunteer, visit: vtcovid.com/donate.

Find information about more ways to support UVM Medical Center/UVM Health Network health care workers on the UVM Medical Center COVID-19 Response Fund webpage. 

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Since this article was published, as of Monday, April 20, 2020, the donation drive has received 22,000 gloves; 1,900 masks; 62 face shields; and 29 "bunny suits."

Donations are still needed.



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