As COVID-19 cases began to quickly overwhelm hospitals, Kelsey Coolahan, an M.D. and Master of Business Administration student at Cornell, started getting messages from friends and family about the healthcare industry’s dire need for personal protective equipment.
Confronting one of modern America’s worst public health crises in history, hospitals across the country were caught off guard by the sudden surge of thousands of patients; with not enough masks to go around, doctors and nurses have been forced to treat coronavirus patients without sufficient protection.
Two weeks ago, Coolahan got together with other Johnson Graduate School of Management students — including Katie Colton, Greg Minogue, Sameer Shah and Imani Finn-Garland — to see how she could help. Together, they started the Students for Healthcare Heroes, a fundraiser that has so far raised $5,000 to place PPE in the hands of healthcare workers.
“To tell you the truth, eight weeks ago I didn’t even know what PPE was. To me — I’m an investment banker — PPE is property, plant and equipment,” said Greg Minogue, a Cornell MBA student who is coordinating the team’s efforts to get other schools involved. “In conversations with Kelsey, I could hear her passion and her frustration and her concern.”
Minogue realized that while there was no easy solution to COVID-19, the biggest priority was making sure healthcare workers have access to the lifesaving equipment that they need.
The fundraiser contributes to the organization GetUsPPE, which works to connect healthcare workers to protective equipment. Among its teams and affiliates across the country, GetUsPPE has distributed 500,000 units of PPE to Baltimore, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area alone, with hundreds of thousands more in other regions.
“They have a big focus on equity — they’re looking to really focus on areas that are being hit hardest, and also affecting underrepresented populations, communities of color, rural hospitals, tribal communities, prison populations — helping folks that otherwise wouldn’t get the funding and the resources,” Minogue said.
In addition to distributing PPE, the organization also vets the safety of new designs and posts them to their website to “empower makers and fabricators to craft open-source alternatives that have the best chance of utility in the hospital setting,” GetUsPPE said in an emailed statement. In recent months, the market for protective gear has been flooded with scams and defective equipment.
The Students for Healthcare Heroes fundraising initiative started out as a grassroots effort, with members of the organizing team sending out emails to as many Cornell departments and student organizations as possible. Now, they’ve brought other business schools on board, including Harvard Business School and the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business.
The team encourages donations to the cause, but hopes that students across the country will get involved in whatever way they can to support healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19.
“Donations are our number one priority, but we understand that not everybody can donate money at this time,” said Katie Colton, a Cornell MBA student coordinating the team’s University outreach efforts. “So any advocacy people can do … would be really helpful.”
So far, the fundraiser has reached its initial goal of $5,000 in two weeks, with over 90 percent of the total amount coming from Cornell alone. They are aiming to double that amount in the coming weeks, setting a new goal of $10,000.
While its first round of fundraising will likely conclude in late May, the organizers are looking ahead to the potential of renewed need in the fall, when the combined effects of flu season and COVID-19 could cause a new wave of infections, according to Minogue.
The team hopes that their fundraiser will lay the foundation for a network of support among business schools, continuing to contribute to the battle against coronavirus as the crisis evolves in coming months.