Supporting Healthcare Workers in Houston

Southern  | September 25, 2020
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Tzu Chi volunteers donate PPE to St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston on August 3, 2020. Photo / Pen-Chi Liu

Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Pen-Chi Liu
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

As spring turned into summer, COVID-19 infections started to increase exponentially in Texas. The number of confirmed cases had surpassed New York to rank third in the United States. As the number of cases continued to climb higher, several counties extended the stay at home order. During his briefing on August 13, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that the coronavirus positivity rate in Texas had reached as high as 24.5% – the highest since the pandemic started. The situation in Texas was critical.

Exponential Increases in Confirmed Cases in Houston

The coronavirus outbreak in Houston experienced an exponential increase in July. Patients overwhelmed healthcare workers and hospitals in the area. Even though the governor had issued an order requiring everyone to wear a face covering while in public spaces, many people still refused to do so.  After six consecutive days of over 1,000 confirmed cases, the City of Houston and Harris County announced that those who refused to wear face coverings would be issued a $250 fine.

St. Joseph Medical Center staff member Michael Yong (right) accepts the PPE donation from Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo / Pen-Chi Liu
The donation to St. Joseph Medical Center includes 10,000 medical masks and other PPE items. Photo / Pen-Chi Liu

To support healthcare workers and area hospitals, Tzu Chi volunteers Jean Hsu, Penny Liu, and Julienne Chi delivered 11,000 medical masks, 720 N95 masks, 200 isolation gowns, 60 coveralls, and 100 goggles to St. Joseph Medical Center in downtown Houston.

Supporting St. Joseph Medical Center

The path to Tzu Chi USA’s donation of critically-needed PPE for St. Joseph Medical Center began with Tzu Chi volunteer Michael Yong, who happens to work there. When Tzu Chi volunteers came to Michael’s home in May to deliver cloth masks for him and his family, he mentioned that the hospital urgently needed PPE.

St. Joseph Medical Center is one of Houston’s major hospitals and also one of the major healthcare facilities that was accepting COVID-19 patients. More than 500 physicians and over 1,500 employees staff the medical center. The demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) here was huge.

To start, volunteers delivered a donation of 500 goggles and 240 coveralls on May 7. During a meeting at the hospital at that time, a staff member accepting the PPE told the volunteers that their inventory was about to run out, so she was very grateful for the donation that would protect frontline healthcare workers.

Michael Yong (left) and his co-workers welcome the team of volunteers at the hospital entrance on May 7, when Tzu Chi USA makes its first donation of PPE. Photo / Pen-Chi Liu

We had three floors of COVID rooms, now we have six floors. This is very sad to see.

Michael Yong, Staff Member, St. Joseph Medical Center - Tzu Chi Volunteer

An Overwhelming Number of Patients

Because of the increasing number of cases that were overwhelming hospitals and healthcare workers, volunteers immediately prepared a second round of donations on August 3 after receiving new deliveries of PPE.

Tzu Chi volunteer Jean Hsu (left) and Michael Yong (right) take inventory of Tzu Chi USA's PPE donation to St. Joseph Medical Center on May 7. Photo / Kelly Lin

While these donations were of tremendous help to staff at St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston, the heightened need for PPE during the pandemic is ongoing nationwide.

Tzu Chi volunteer Pen-Chi Liu shared that her nephew works as an X-ray technician in another hospital. That medical facility had admitted as many as 800 COVID-19 patients and still had about 500 in recent days. As soon as one bed became empty, a new COVID-19 patient would arrive. Many hospitals across the country have converted lobby spaces or break rooms into ICU areas and hired additional critical care nurses to attend to these patients.

The pandemic has severely impacted our communities and the healthcare system. We should all do our part in reducing the infection rate by wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, and staying home as much as possible to reduce the chance of becoming infected and relieve the pressure on healthcare workers.

Please support our Together While Apart campaign to help make donations of PPE such as this possible and ongoing.

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