A month ago, cases of COVID-19 had just started popping up in Michigan. But the disease had already sickened tens of thousands of people, and closed factories thousands of miles away in China.

That caused a double disruption, driving up demand for personal protective equipment, while driving down production.

Janet Abbruzzese and her Michigan Medicine Supply Chain team had worked to build up a supply of protective masks, gloves and other gear that clinicians should wear when treating people with infectious diseases. But they and other Michigan Medicine leaders began to hear from members of the community who wanted to know how they could help.

That’s when the idea of a centralized PPE donation drive was born. It would open up a new source of potentially scarce supplies by providing a single point for the community to donate PPE items and cleaning supplies that were already in their homes, offices, laboratories, factories, restaurants, salons and more.

Medical students place donated supplies on a cart near the drive-through drop-off point, at Dock 90 of the North Campus Research Complex.
Medical students Adrienne Jarocki and Andrew Neevel place donated supplies on a cart near the drive-through drop-off point, at Dock 90 of the North Campus Research Complex. (Photo by Bryan McCullough, Michigan Medicine Department of Communication)

An overwhelming response

The drive opened March 21, and the response was overwhelming. By the end of the third week, more than 300,000 items had come in. Some had been dug out of drawers, cabinets and store rooms. Others had been newly made by individuals or companies to respond to Michigan Medicine’s call. Some had been bought with the donor’s own money or by groups of people pooling their funds.

And soon, nearly one-third of the donated items had become part of the regular supply chain, approved for clinical use or use by patients and visitors. Some were already shielding clinicians from potential exposure to the virus.

A week and a half after the drive began, it took on an added dimension: a food drive to bring in donations for Food Gatherers.

Within a week, the community had dropped off nearly 5,000 pounds of food and more than 1,300 pounds of diapers and toiletries. These supplies helped make up for the disruption to Food Gatherers’ usual supply chain of donations from grocery stores and restaurants.

Drone footage shows a dining hall turned into a donation hub with hundreds of items collected from the public.
Drone footage shows a North Campus Research Complex dining hall turned into a donation hub for thousands of items collected from the public. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Medicine Department of Communication)

The back story

The drive came together with incredible speed after Tony Denton, U-M Hospitals and Health Centers senior vice president and chief operating officer, gave the green light. Just a day after the idea was born, the facilities team led by Bob Harris had identified locations for additional warehouse space and a spot for the public to drop off donations: a loading dock at the North Campus Research Complex just off Huron Parkway.

A team overseen by Mary Tresh and others in Medical School Facilities went to work turning the loading dock and nearby dining hall into a donation hub.

Since most U-M research had ramped down to slow the spread of the virus, the usually bustling NCRC facility had fallen silent. That made it possible for facilities to focus mainly on the drive, including Corrie Pennington-Block, Maryellen Tracy and staff who normally support day-to-day site operations. The Division of Public Safety and Security keeps the donations secure.

A second, operations-focused team hastily formed to run the front and back ends of the drive. They worked out ways to keep team members safe as they interacted with the public, as well as processes for sorting the donations, making sure they were appropriate for clinical use and packaging them for delivery to the hospital warehouse.

Brad Bolen, who had been part of the High Reliability Skills training program, quickly pivoted to become project manager. Kara Gavin, who usually focuses on communicating about research, led the effort to spread the word about the drive to the public via social media, news media and U-M publications.

A Michigan Medicine warehouse team member receives the first shipment of donated protective gear to be approved for clinical use.

The work continues

As donations continue to come in, staff from the Value Analysis group led by Sue Friebe make sure they are acceptable for use, and match them to normally purchased items so they can be ordered by clinical teams from the usual system. The Supply Chain Operations group led by Kristine Komives inspects and handles the supplies before and after U-M Moving and Trucking teams take them to the hospital.

Several members of the U-M community from beyond Michigan Medicine have also lent their organizational skills, notably Mary Jo Callan, director of the Ginsberg Center, which helps U-M students with community engagement efforts, and Katie Doyle, clinical assistant professor of social work, who became the lead point of contact for inquiries by email.

Soon after the drive began, dozens of medical student volunteers became indispensable to the work of transporting the donated items from donors’ cars and trucks to the dining hall, sorting them carefully and packaging them. Quintin Solano, a second-year student, leads their efforts.

Meanwhile, a College of Engineering team led by Amy Cohn, professor of industrial and operations engineering, worked with Infection Prevention & Epidemiology to determine the best design and materials for a 3-D-printed face shield that community members could make and that would be acceptable for clinical use. Justin Schell, director of the U-M Library’s Design Lab, also provided direction and coordination for community members.

While it’s impossible to thank every individual, organization and company that has given PPE and food, many of them have shared their own thanks. In notes, stickers, drawings and cards dropped off with their donations, they’ve thanked the entire Michigan Medicine team for being there to help those sickened by COVID-19.

“As U-M football coach Bo Schembechler famously reminded us, the most important thing for success is to think about ‘the team, the team, the team,’” Denton said. “The team making this donation drive work has given us the ability to meet our caregiver teams’ need for PPE, and to create greater food security in our broad community during these unprecedented times.”

Tags: