NEWS | May 29, 2020

UC Davis Health repaying generosity of community with PPE donations to others


Through the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, people and groups across the community donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to UC Davis Health. At the same time, the health system’s supply chain managers worked their sources to prepare for a possible surge of patients.

Emir Estrada and James Flemings organize donations at the UC Davis Health receiving center.  Emir Estrada and James Flemings organize donations at the UC Davis Health receiving center.

Now, through the health system’s careful planning, well-sourced supply chain and the community’s generosity, UC Davis Health is solidly prepared for possible future needs. It is now donating PPE, particularly masks, to other hospitals and community groups, including Sacramento firefighters. 

“The community supported us, now it’s our turn to help them,” said Brad Simmons, interim CEO of the UC Davis Medical Center. “We are doing everything we can to help our community every way we can.”

UC Davis Health is focused on assuring there is enough PPE for all needs in the hospital and clinics, as well as for a possible second COVID-19 wave. But now, the system has the capacity to help others, and that’s a priority, too.

“UC Davis Health is committed to our region and all of our communities,” said Jita Buño, director of supply chain management. “We want to be part of caring for the community any way possible. As we look at where we are with PPE, we have a chance to help our partners and many others.”

The masks being donated to others are not standard for clinical use at UC Davis Health, she said. They would require training and some testing to use them in a UC Davis hospital or clinical setting.

“Because there was no immense surge, it gave us time to source the products that are clinically acceptable for us and that we are trained on,” Buño said. “If there had been a surge, the extra masks would have provided valuable backup.”

The masks being donated are high quality, she said, and are extremely helpful for the community groups. “Outside the hospital, the role of masks is to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 by the wearer,” Buño said. “These work well for that purpose.”

Beyond this region, UC Davis Health is sending procedure masks, N95s and coveralls to the Northern Navajo Medical Center and the Gallup Indian Medical Center to help the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.

The Navajo Nation has the highest per capita infection rate in the U.S. despite having one of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the country. The strained health care there has limited public health support.

The donations were spearheaded by Ernestine Chaco, a member of the Navajo Nation who just graduated from the UC Davis School of Medicine and who has been working in New Mexico helping her family and her tribe. She explained some of the factors that contribute to health disparities in her community.

“Life is hard on the reservation,” Chaco said. “Thirty percent of us live without running water or electricity. My father does not have any of these utilities. Many Navajo people have to travel, at times two-to-three hours, to obtain necessities like water, food and laundry services.”

She said getting necessary, basic supplies comes with a high risk of exposure, because many people have to go to the same few, often jam-packed stores in Gallup and Farmington, NM.

“There are only 13 full grocery stores that service an area the size of West Virginia, so people have to resort to crowded stores off the reservation,” Chaco said. “These systemic issues make it challenging to practice physical distancing, which we have seen is vital in controlling this deadly virus. We have few hospitals on or near the Navajo Nation, meaning people often have to travel far, sometimes one-to three hours, to reach medical facilities.”

For the Sacramento area donations, UC Davis Health contacted partners it believed could make good use of the support. Groups include Sacramento Fire Department, Sacramento Covered, which is a non-profit that connects underserved people to both health care and coverage, and the Food Literacy Center.

Amber Stott, the founder and CEO of the non-profit Food Literacy Center, said the offer of masks was a very welcome surprise. UC Davis Health is a supporter of the center, which teaches low-income elementary school children nutrition, cooking skills, gardening and more to help the kids and their families live healthier lives.

During the pandemic, they’ve been supplying about 50 healthy meal packages a week to kids and their families. The boxes feed four people and include recipes and instructions. The packs get handed out at schools during school lunch pickup, or Stott and volunteers deliver them to homes that have no transportation.

“UC Davis called us and said, ‘How many masks do you want?’” Stott said. “I asked if we could get six. They said, ‘How about 250?’ That means we can put a mask in every box so all the kids get one.”

“UC Davis said, ‘How many masks do you want?’” said Amber Stott, Food Literacy Center founder. “I asked if we could get six. They said, ‘How about 250?’ That means we can put a mask in every box so all the kids get one.”

Buño said supporting community programs like the Food Literacy Center is part of UC Davis Health’s mission. The supply team began thinking they might be able to donate PPE to others who need it when they saw the outpouring of PPE donations early in the pandemic.

“We created a website that listed what we needed. People absolutely poured in with donations,” she said. “In the first two weeks, we constantly had people coming with tubs full of stuff. They just wanted to help.”

Even former patients brought boxes of gloves or surgical masks that had been opened but still contained unused gloves and masks.

“They said, ‘I got this when I was in your hospital and thought you could use it,’” Buño said.

Besides their usual suppliers, Buño and her team called dental offices, veterinary clinics, tattoo parlors and other business to ask about buying PPE. “They all said, ‘Please, just take it,” Buño said.

“We are very well prepared for our future needs,” Buño said. “We’re also in a great place where we can help so many people who need us.”