A generous donation of about $150,000 worth of personal protective equipment from Charles and Lynn Zhang has allowed the medical school to keep its providers safe while they serve the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Zhangs’ philanthropy also included a significant contribution of their time as Lynn Zhang personally spent countless hours sourcing supplies from China amidst worldwide shortages of personal protective equipment.
“All this started when this virus started hitting the community,” Lynn Zhang said. “We really wanted to do something to help. I read the stories about how our frontline doctors and nurses were fighting it and lack of equipment and that broke my heart because they are risking their lives and we don’t have enough protection to give them. I thought, how can we take care of the patients, of the community?”
Zhang said she called WMed leaders and asked what they needed most. She learned the medical school had placed orders for personal protection equipment, but the orders were all backordered as the vendors dealt with limited supplies.
Zhang reached out to a friend in the medical field in China, who said she could help find supplies. Over the last several weeks, Zhang spent numerous hours on the phone – often late at night due to the 12-hour time difference -- sourcing supplies, ordering them and arranging for delivery to the medical school.
“We just want to do whatever we can to help the community,” she said. “It’s such a difficult and challenging time.”
The Zhangs’ donations to the medical school are a small part of what they’ve done in Kalamazoo as the community fights the COVID-19 crisis. They have made donations to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and donated funds to Bronson Methodist Hospital’s Rapid Response Fund to supply the hospital with more ventilators in the case of a COVID-19 patient surge.
“I believe we’re very blessed to be in the community,” Lynn Zhang said. “Our leadership in the medical school and the hospitals are all working together and focused on one goal to make it happen. That helps. That is so crucial.”
Donations from the Zhangs include surgical masks, gloves, Tyvek suits, booties and goggles – personal protective equipment that is essential to keep providers safe but that has been in short supply everywhere, Robin Scott, the medical school’s Occupational Health Manager, said.
Having an abundance of surgical masks allows WMed Health to provide them to employees and patients. The medical school is requiring all employees and visitors to wear surgical masks while on any WMed campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. The donation allowed WMed Health to share surgical masks with Ascension Borgess Hospital and Bronson Methodist Hospital, along with West Michigan Air Care and Kalamazoo Anesthesiology, Scott said.
Surgical masks protect the air people breathe out, so everyone wearing a mask protects people around them, Scott said.
“If we didn’t have these donations, we couldn’t have everyone wear one,” Scott said.
Each provider has been given a set of the donated personal protective equipment, and WMed Health employees manning the collection site hosted by Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services are using the Tyvek suits to completely cover their clothing as they handle potential COVID-19 positive specimens, Scott said.
Scott said the medical school, like many healthcare facilities around the world, was not able to order the amounts of personal protective equipment needed as the COVID-19 crisis hit because companies were rationing the amounts that could be purchased of everything from cleaning supplies to masks.
“We were having severe limitations, which was frustrating to say the least,” Scott said. “We were handing out more masks and we were starting to use more supplies than normal and we couldn’t order. Those two limitations were huge.”
Scott said the medical school was caught between its limited stock and the amount that was able to be ordered.
“Without this donation I don’t know where we would be,” Scott said. “The time, the money and the effort that she’s put into this is just phenomenal. It truly shows the power of community and I’m hoping that others are seeing that, that we are in this together.”
The donations have had a real impact on WMed Health providers this week, said Debra Taubel MD, chair of the medical school’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Earlier this week, Dr. Taubel said, a provider used the donated personal protective equipment while performing a cesarean section on a patient with COVID-19 who had been hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit.
“We were truly fortunate to have our own individual PPE available for a procedure like this,” Dr. Taubel said. “We are extremely appreciative of how quickly we have had protective equipment made available to the WMed family. Through these efforts, we continue to provide necessary care for our patients, keeping everyone safe.”
We can all learn from the Zhangs’ community engagement, commitment, compassion for others’ safety and servant leadership, said Keith Kenter, MD, the medical school’s Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs.
“WMed and WMed Health are proud to accept these gifts and to be associated with our community,” Dr. Kenter said. “It is in times of stress and crisis management that good things like this need to be celebrated. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”