As hospitals nationwide face shortages of essential medical equipment due to soaring demand and broken supply chains, Jewish senior homes in the Bay Area are making preparations for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus and are seeking donations to help bolster their supply of life-saving protective gear.
San Francisco’s Campus for Jewish Living, which houses about 300 seniors on its campus in the Excelsior District, sent an appeal to the Bay Area Jewish community on Tuesday, asking for donations of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer and eye gear.
“As the COVID-19 cases are surging, San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living is getting ready to care for our own vulnerable population while protecting our staff to ensure their safety,” the email said. “One of our most urgent concerns is the short supply of Personal Protective Equipment, and we want to ask for your help by donating any of the following items.”
In an email to J., SFCJL spokesperson Marcus Young said the residential care facility, which is in the midst of a transformational $140 million renovation project, was anticipating possible masks shortages and was “preparing for the likely increase in demand.” The same went for surgical gloves and sanitizer. He added that to date, there have been no positive cases of COVID-19 among residents or staff.
PPE, including the coveted respiratory face mask N95 manufactured by 3M, are essential to health care workers and patients to help prevent the spread of disease. Masks, gloves and sanitizer are used in large quantities at senior homes, particularly during outbreaks of illness like the flu — which the Reutlinger Community in Danville experienced this season.
Hospitals across the country are reporting shortages, in part because most PPE equipment is manufactured in China and Taiwan, and the global pandemic has disrupted traditional supply chains. Factories in those countries are facing soaring demand and cannot produce face masks fast enough.
Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines asking people to conserve N95 masks, or even to reuse them in some circumstances, prompting an outcry from some medical professionals.
Shortages have forced Bay Area nurses and other health care workers to ration and reuse their masks, according to a recent report in the Mercury News. Kaiser Permanente workers have staged walkouts and protests out of concerns for their safety.
At Reutlinger, which is just now getting over the influenza outbreak that required quarantining residents, administrators are preparing for the possibility of another potential viral outbreak. So far no residents or employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Like every facility that houses seniors, every hospital, and every clinic, we’re concerned about having adequate supplies,” said Beth Kyman, Reutlinger’s director of philanthropy.
With hundreds of people working at the facility — doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, caretakers, custodial staff, food service workers and many more — there is a need for a massive inventory of supplies masks, gloves and disinfectant, particularly during a high-risk event, Kyman said.
Reutlinger’s medical supplies vendors have been “very supportive” and “energetic” in trying to meet their needs, she said. Many of the senior living facilities in the Bay Area use the same suppliers.
But “there’s not much they can do when the supply chain doesn’t have the products,” she said, adding that “anyone that has gloves, gowns, sanitizers and masks that would like to donate them, we would love to have them.”
While the federal government activates FEMA and marshals other resources to scale up production (critics say the effort began too late), private companies have offered to donate some of their stockpiles of PPE, mainly to hospitals, which most urgently require masks and other protective gear.
In Northern California, tech companies that keep stockpiles of masks for wildfires are now working to distribute them. Apple said it would donate 9 million protective masks. Facebook said it would donate more than 700,000 and is “working on sourcing millions more,” according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff said the company had delivered 9,000 masks to UCSF and was working on “an additional 5 million.”
Locally, Jewish community efforts are popping up to supplement these large-scale efforts.
Rebecca Calahan Klein, a member of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland, began by putting a cardboard box at the end of her driveway in Lafayette on Saturday morning with a note asking for donations of masks and gloves. A neighbor posted about it on the website Nextdoor, and by the end of the day, Klein said she had “half a car load” of masks and nonperishable food.
Calahan Klein collected about two dozen N95 masks (many stored in garages by people who were prepared for future wildfires) and a handful of face shields, and dropped them off at John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek. Employees there were happy to receive them, she said. She donated the nonperishable food items to a food bank.
“I’m high risk — I’m 57 and immune-compromised,” she said. “I thought, OK, what can I do?”
All tolled, by Wednesday Calahan Klein had collected 75 masks, eight face shields, about 1,000 pairs of gloves and 6 gallons of disinfectant, and donated everything to local hospitals. “It’s a drop in the bucket compared to large donations,” she said, “but still important to the medical workers who received our donations.”
Angela Engel, another Temple Beth Abraham member, created a GoFundMe page to buy materials for manufacturing protective masks, with help from a friend. The fundraiser quickly surpassed its goal of $6,690 in just three days. As of Wednesday, Engel and others had developed a prototype for a shield mask.
On March 23, Temple Isaiah in Lafayette sent an email appeal to members for spare PPE such as masks and gloves, as well as experienced sewers who could lend their time and expertise to making masks. Even cotton masks made out of shirts and pillowcases would be helpful while production of N95 masks ramps up, the email said. The contact for the initiative is Dr. Dan Greninger, who can be reached at Rabbi Nicki Greninger’s email: email@example.com.
Kyman said Reutlinger leaders hope to be “as prepared as we can be,” though she still holds out hope for what might be called miracle: that the virus would “pass over” their house.
“We’ve reached out to alternative vendors and large suppliers to get as much [PPE] possible,” she said. “Everybody’s asking for the same thing.”
Make PPE donations to the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living by calling (415) 469-2130 and to the Reutlinger Community by contacting Beth Kyman at (925) 964-2072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.