Tzu Chi USA’s COVID-19 Response: Striving to Meet the Needs of the Healthcare Industry

National Headquarters  |  March 30, 2020
Tzu Chi USA Medical Foundation prepares and packs medical supplies to ship to out-of-state medical institutions. Photo provided by Mary Keh

Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

In March of 2020, Tzu Chi USA announced its efforts to expand the services rendered through the fundraising campaign, “Providing Relief During the New Coronavirus Outbreak,” and quickly obtained protective medical supplies to be delivered to frontline medical workers in the USA. On March 19th, Tzu Chi USA delivered medical supplies — including 1,560 N95 respirators and 400 safety goggles — to hospitals and medical centers in Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.

A Tzu Chi Northridge volunteer, Bingbing Li, receives masks ordered for Tzu Chi Medical Foundation (TCMF) and delivers the supplies to Tzu Chi overnight. Photo provided by Mary Keh.

Healthcare Tops Americans’ Worries

All over the news and across social media, many hospitals have been calling upon the public to donate their stockpile of unused masks at home. 

Tzu Chi volunteers are deeply concerned about the health and safety of frontline medical workers, and despite the wish to donate masks to healthcare workers straight away, doing such a thing has become quite difficult, indeed. The outbreak began at the end of January, and since then, masks can scarcely be found in pharmacies or elsewhere for purchase.

N95 respirators are scarce yet essential supplies for medical institutions in the United States. Photo provided by Mary Keh.
A volunteer packs medical supplies for delivery to medical institutions in need. Photo provided by Mary Keh

Even if I place an order for more masks, it can’t be bought. Most orders will be canceled, the receiving quantity changes, or it will take a long time to receive the goods. So, when buying masks and other medical supplies, until it is in your hands, it can’t be considered received. Only when you get the goods can you be assured that you can achieve the mission possible.

As countries around the globe seek to safely treat the rising number of COVID-19 patients, the need for protective medical supplies rises as well. Tzu Chi volunteers have explored numerous routes to obtain such supplies for distribution to the hardest-hit medical facilities, but the quantities received are far less than the target quantities expected.

Assisting the Hardest-Hit Hospitals

After receiving another bulk shipment of medical supplies, Tzu Chi volunteers carefully organized and packed the supplies for delivery to various medical institutions while remaining hopeful that we can continue providing medical supplies to the medical workers who require them most urgently.

During this distribution, Tzu Chi USA donated N95 respirators to Jane Haderlein, senior vice president of philanthropy and public relations at the Huntington Hospital in Los Angeles, with Kelly D Sliver graciously accepting the supplies on behalf of the hospital.

A Tzu Chi volunteer, Albert Huang (left), delivers medical supplies to Huntington Hospital. Kelly D. Silver (right) graciously accepted the supplies on behalf of the hospital. Photo provided by Mary Keh.
The main entrance to Huntington Hospital in Los Angeles County. Photo provided by Mary Keh.

N95 respirators and safety goggles were additionally delivered to Evergreen Health Medical Center in Seattle and the Coalition of Asian-American IPA (CAIPA).

The EvergreenHealth Medical Center is the first in the United States to have more than 100 cases of COVID-19. “A physician working in the emergency room of the hospital was the first confirmed case of a medical worker in the United States,” said Mary Keh, a Tzu Chi Volunteer. “The hospital was the hardest-hit across the country. I feel distressed when I think of the medical workers in the hospital.”

Continuous Support From Tzu Chi

“Tzu Chi received many calls from medical institutions, and the conversation from every call included these words: ‘Our medical supplies are running out at the hospital…’ The situation is really challenging and seriously severe. Tzu Chi volunteers encouraged each other to face them with a positive attitude, hoping to get the supplies before the end of March…” Mary Keh’s voice was choked with emotion as she recounted the plea for help.

Dr. William Keh, the CEO of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation in the USA, also presented his report during meetings with eyes raw and tearful as he spoke of these facts.

The COVID-19 outbreak has gravely affected the American healthcare system and healthcare practitioners alike. To ensure a safe and healthy environment, we caution everyone to follow the preventative measures set forth by the government. Please remember to practice good personal hygiene, stay at home, and maintain social distancing guidelines. Unity through cooperation with these measures will not only keep you safe, but help others stay safe as well.

We also encourage everyone to reflect deeply with gentle perseverance. For example, start a vegetarian diet, or participate in the daily universal prayers with Tzu Chi members from around the world at 1:30 PM. 

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